Winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Robert Sward is the author of 14 books including A Much-Married Man, A Novel, and Four Incarnations, New & Selected Poems. His work is in Uncivilizing, too, A Collection of Poems that has just been published by Insomniac Press (Toronto). Winner of WebScout's Way Cool Site Award for editing eSCENE 1996, Sward has contributed to over 200 literary journals and e-zines. He currently teaches for the University of California Extension in Santa Cruz.
--Grandpa Max, 1860-1958
1. His inventions
Born in 1860, Austro-Hungarian immigrant,
inventor of a cap to keep the fizz
in seltzer bottles, a refinement to the machine gun,
and a metal Rube Goldberg bookmark
sold, believe it or not,
with a diagram and user manual,
Grandpa made big money speculating,
buying and selling tenements.
In the 1920s, offered stock in a start-up selling
flavored water and cocaine, he turned it down. "Coca Cola," he spat.
"Vhat dreck! Who'd buy?"
2. His economies
Lean, stiff-necked, pack-a-day smoker
with a fondness for syrupy wine, the old man practiced
certain economies: wouldn't own a car,
used public transportation;
and, rather than buy toilet paper,
blackened his ass with yesterday's Chicago Tribune.
Grandpa never left a restaurant
--"vegetable soup, roll, glass of water"--
without pocketing a few cellophane-wrapped crackers
At six, I got my first lesson in thrift.
Grandpa with a smoker's cough:
"Cough into four corners of hanky,
four coughs minimum--,
before you dirty up the middle."
End of lesson.
3. His curses
Late summer afternoons, partaking of Mogen David
("Shield of David") wine,
he orbited the living room, sonofabitching
and Democrats with no sense,
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, "betrayers of the rich,
and they stole my patent, too."
God damning union leaders, "schnorrers,"
the United Mine Workers,
the AFL and CIO,
"Stand 'em up against a wall.
Shoot 'em, shoot the sons-a-bitches."
4. His secret to health and long life
Old Testament Moses,
cigarette and drink in hand,
white mustache, gray beard, pacing, pacing,
"God" (it was a prayer after all),
"damn" (the patriarch calling down wrath),
The last of his great inventions,
five syllables to God's four ("Let there be light"),
but good enough.
And that is how he'd breathe, cursing
--head back, chin up--everyone who, he figured,
had somehow cost him money.
"God damn son-a-bitch, God damn son-a-bitch!" he'd rage,
miraculously cured of whatever ailed him.
South Fallsburg, New York
The Biggest Party Animal Of Them All
spoke Hindi, a little English,
suffered from diabetes,
was allergic to incense,
flowers and perfume,
gave it away, used it as 'prasad,'
a gift to his disciples.
In his 70s he gave himself away,
reportedly 'poking' as many as 300
of his youngest followers.
'Now's your chance,' he'd say, his mouth full.
'That's right, that's right. Lie back,
meditate,' he'd croon. 'Have faith.'
The dude separated so many people from so much money
he had to create the Guru Om Foundation.
Rolls Royces, chauffeurs, ashrams in all the major cities.
The movement started small, twenty,
hoteliers, cocaine dealers and professors,
flocked to him,
himself a musician, masked actor, comic,
Flatulent, potbellied old mystic,
giver-away of toys, party hats and favors to devotees.
The 'hundred-hatted yogi' we called him.
God, he was fun to be around!
Festivals with world-renowned performers,
dinner for five thousand,
we got to approach and touch his feet.
True, sometimes he'd flip out, become enraged,
have to be strapped down
one devotee at each limb.
'Kill.' 'Fuck.' 'Destroy,' he'd holler,
Rudra the Howler.
'Chant.' 'Dance.' 'Meditate.'
Nataraj, the dancing Shiva, O graceful one!
Once, mid-revelry, enraged at something I'd written,
he drew back, swatted me four, five times
with a mass of peacock feathers. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
It's known as 'Shaktipat,' kick-start Kundalini yoga,
where the party thrower has only to touch someone--
blow to the head or soft caress--
For two, maybe three, minutes
I saw two worlds interpenetrating
jewels into jewels,
silver suns, electric whiteness,
expanded inhabitable consciousness
World 'A' and world 'B'
as one vibrating blue pearl,
world like a skyful of blue suns
Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!
Head spinning, I began to laugh,
and he too, old cobra face,
began to howl,
mister three in one. Mister one in three.
O thou paunchy one
and orange silk robe, trickster,
master cocksman, hit me again!
Seven years I hung out with him,
even flew to India, meditated
in his cave
scorpions, malaria-bearing mosquitoes
so illumined they chanted back.
god in the shape of a dick,
god of wind,
lord of animals,
killer god, god of death
and destroyer of all life
one in three,
three in one.
'Sonofabitch,' I say
The guests are still arriving,
the party's just begun.
© Mudlark 1997
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