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Poem of the day

Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Buster Keaton’s Ride" by Jack Spicer

a translation for Melvin Bakkerud


ROOSTER: Cockledoodledoo!

(Buster Keaton enters carrying four children in his arms.)

BUSTER KEATON (takes out a wooden dagger and kills them): My poor children!

ROOSTER: Cockledoodledoo!

BUSTER KEATON (counting the corpses on the ground): One, two, three, four. (Grabs a bicycle and goes.)

    (Among the old rubber tires and cans of gasoline a Negro eats a straw hat.)

BUSTER KEATON: What a beautiful afternoon!

    (A parrot flutters around in the sexless sky.)

BUSTER KEATON: I like riding a bicycle.

THE OWL: Toowit toowoo.

BUSTER KEATON: How beautifully these birds sing!


BUSTER KEATON: It’s lovely!

(Pause. Buster Keaton ineffably crosses the rushes and little fields of rye. The landscape shorten itself beneath the wheels of his machine. The bicycle has a single dimension. It is able to enter books and to expand itself even into operas and coalmines. The bicycle of Buster Keaton does not have a riding seat of caramel or sugar pedals like the bicycles bad men ride. It is a bicycle like all bicycles except for a unique drenching of innocence. Adam and Even run by, frightened as if they were carrying a vase full of water and, in passing, pet the bicycle of Buster Keaton.) 

BUSTER KEATON: Ah, love, love!

(Buster Keaton falls to the ground. The bicycle escapes him. It runs behind two enormous gray butterflies. It skims madly half an inch from the ground.)

BUSTER KEATON: I don’t want to talk. Won’t somebody please say something?

A VOICE: Fool!

(He continues walking. His eyes, infinite and sad like a newly born animal, dream of lilies and angels and silken belts. His eyes which are like the bottom of a vase. His eyes of a mad child. Which are most faithful. Which are most beautiful. The eyes of an ostrich. His human eyes with a secure equipoise with melancholy. Philadelphia is seen in the distance. The inhabitants of that city now know that the old poem of a Singer machine is able to encircle the big roses of the greenhouse but not at all to comprehened the poetic difference between a bowl of hot tea and a bowl of cold tea. Philadelphia sines in the distance.)

(An American girl with eyes of celluloid comes through the grass.)


(Buster Keaton smiles and looks at the shoes of the girl. Those shoes! We do not have to admire her shoes. It would take a crocodile to wear them.)

BUSTER KEATON: I would have liked—

THE AMERICAN (breathless): Do you carry a sword decked with myrtle leaves?

(Buster Keaton shrugs his shoulders and lifts his right foot.)

THE AMERICAN: Do you have a ring with a poisoned stone?

(Buster Keaton twists slowly and lifts an inquiring leg.)


(Four angles with wings of a heavenly gas balloon piss among the flowers. The ladies of the town play a piano as if they were riding a bicycle. The waltz, a moon, and seventeen Indian canoes rock the precious heart of our friend. As the greatest surprise of all, autumn has invaded the garden like water explodes a geometrical clump of sugar.)

BUSTER KEATON (sighing): I would have liked to have been a swan. But I can’t do what I would have liked. Because—What happened to my hat? Where is my collar of little birds and my mohair necktie? What a disgrace!

(A young girl with a wasp waist and a high collar comes in on a bicycle. She has the head of a nightingale.)

YOUNG GIRL: Whom do I have the honor of saluting?

BUSTER KEATON (with a bow): Buster Keaton.

(The young girl faints and falls off the bicycle. Her legs on the ground tremble like two agonized cobras. A gramophone plays a thousand versions of the same song—“In Philadelphia they have no nightingales.”)

BUSTER KEATON (kneeling): Darling Miss Eleanor, pardon me! (lower) Darling (lower still) Darling (lowest) Darling.

(The lights of Philadelphia flicker and go out in the faces of a thousand policemen.)

from my vocabulary did this to me:  The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer



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