Monday, July 20, 2015

Bound For Glory

Bound For Glory

Fire showed him young there are some servants
you can't trust, like the machine
of mind, a servant wanting only
to be master, to take more
than it could ever give; even giving life
each day, and all the things of life,
its dear ambitions always yearn
towards your disaster.

It took his home and sister
as a child, when mother's hands
left off tucking in and washing clothes
and turned to burning rafters
when mother's mind
turned to burning coal
in fire her father
drowned  but
couldn't quench.

Later he ruled the road
by having nothing, sleeping cold
on the floor, no trust for the soft
trap of a stranger's bed.
He came to live on Mermaid Avenue,
played, wrote, sang, laughed; he held his children.
But fire and madness chased him
just the same, from town to town,
woman to woman, bed to bed, and found him
and found him.

At last they took his daughter, his songs, his arm,
burned to bare bone at the drunken campfire.
He never played guitar again, the machine
would never kill another fascist, though
behind him he dropped
a thousand flowering bombs;
still, in the end
stiff and locked in his head
in the hard white hospital bed,
I wonder what else he could have done
but sing and run.

~July 2015

"Some will rob you with a six gun
and some with a fountain pen...'

Process notes: Woke up thinking about Woody Guthrie today. He was a hero of mine, the original Dust Bowl refugee and troubadour, and the reason I came to Oklahoma. He was born in Okemah July 14th, 1912, named for Woodrow Wilson, who at the time was a candidate for president. His father was a small-time business man and would-be politician, a possible member of the KKK. His mother, who bequeathed him Huntington's disease, was confined in an insane asylum when he was 14, after burning down their homes repeatedly; in one such fire, his sister died. His grandfather died in a drowning incident also a result of the pattern of the disease. Woody dropped out of high school and took to traveling and playing the guitar, learning every Scotch and Irish and traditional folk ballad extant at the time, and writing many of his own. 

He was a lefty to the bone, and worked tirelessly and with great humor and grace in the cause of justice and fairness for all. He wrote hundreds of songs which have become part of our common sense of who we are as a people, (most famously This Land is Your Land) and which influenced a generation or two of musicians. He married three times, loved children and had 8, including Arlo Guthrie and his siblings, who escaped the disease (children from his second marriage to Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia, a dance instructor at the Martha Graham School in New York.) There also were several from his first and last  marriage who died in various accidents at a relatively early age, possibly due to the effects of of Huntington's, and one, a young daughter with Marjorie, who died at 4, also in a fire. 

His best and most productive years were spent on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, with Marjorie (who, though divorced,later came back when his third wife left him, and tended him till he died) and their four surviving children.  In the early fifties, the disease was eating him up, and his arm was burned so severely by gasoline used to start a campfire that he never played the guitar again. He was hospitalized in 1956 and spent the remainder of his life institutionalized, until he died in 1967.

Woody's autobiography, published in 1943, was titled Bound For Glory. The legend that he never slept in a bed while bumming around as it would 'make him soft' is verbal and may be apocryphal.

via google image search

Images: The Guthrie house in Okemah, Oklahoma, where Woody was born
Public domain via wikimedia commons


  1. So sad that those seeds were left un-sown. Beautiful word portrait! Thanks for the process notes, too!

    1. He did live a very full life, passing on a lot of traditional material that might have been lost, and mentoring a lot of young folksingers--a man who tried to live a happy life, too, and leave happiness as well as grief behind him. Thanks, Sharon.

  2. This is a fascinating story, Hedge. before reading your process notes, I could feel the atmosphere of the Great Depression, as well as the references to insanity. This is surely a example of artistry born of the hardships of life.

    1. Thanks, Kerry. He lived in historic times, for sure, with eerie similarities to our own(which after all is a continuation of them)-- the manmade environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl, the greed that caused the misery of the Great Depression, the fight against fascism and against the corruption of banks-- and immortalized them in words and music in a way not just the intelligentsia, but the average person could relate to, could take something positive from. Truly one of my heroes.

  3. What lives some people live, endure, survive. So much trauma and loss the wonder is he wrote so many beautiful songs. Wow. A fantastic story, Hedge. Wonderfully written poem and your process notes blow me away.

  4. Such a terribly sad story--a wonderful poem and wonderful (not wonderful--sad) process notes. His music is so very great. Just love the guy. Really sad. I did not know about this terrible disease--flower bombs the best kind. k.

    1. Thanks, k--a horrific disease indeed, that takes everything away, all the worse because it is n increments, and starts out so innocuously.

  5. Great thoughts and such a sad story indeed.

  6. Definitely a sad story. There are def some servants you can never trust. Fire being one of them. I grew up around it because my grandfather was a fireman, saw all kinds of burns - and there is a def madness that can come when so much is taken by it. In some ways I feel a kindred soul in him. Once the trust is gone as well - hard to trust again.

    1. He is probably the classic definition of a fighter, and I too feel that kinship, though my life(and accomplishments) are nothing next to his--he was an old-fashioned bard, troubadour, and lover of life, even when it was so far from fair to him. Thanks, Hawk.

    2. Oh I would definitely not compare his greatness to my humble esistence, but I def have the heart beat of the bard, a bit of the wanderlust and love of story and life.

      Have a great day Joy!

  7. Wow, what a life. A firebug mother, now that's some kind of nightmare.

  8. "...he ruled the road
    by having nothing,"

    These lines have filled my mind of ideas. I will let them simmer on low...

  9. In your first verse, you raise the terrible tragedy of mental illness (as well as the dangers of fire). How terrible not to be able to trust your mind. So difficult. k.

  10. you're familiar with the Jonatha Brooke album "The Works", I'm sure, based on his unpublished pens, and authorized by his heirs - and if not, it's worth getting.

    where are these voices today, I wonder? the fools (comedians), I suppose, still play the king's game, but where are the troubadours?



"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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