Leo Howls for US
Leo Howls for US
by Leo Lichy
Sun-kissed faces, Painted Ladies, boats and bridges, knotted hills,
cars in rows like dominoes about to topple,
queens and hippies, girls and gays, a rainbow flying over a street,
Union Square and Postcard Row,
a prison on a rock for the visitor to go,
the most complex jigsaw America has to offer,
just bin the shit and give me Jenga
Swapping Pacific Heights for bright neon Vegas lights,
with its desert heat, dollar bills and mega thrills,
its penny slots and vodka shots, limousines and all-night drinking,
celebrities and mega shows, roller coasters and amusement rides,
parties, weddings, topless dancing, orgies, call girls,
niggers selling drugs and jewelry,
the fountains of Bellagio, rented cars and swimming pools,
the food, the fun, the Mexican with the gun,
the glitz, the glamour, the wild and wacky,
the constant sun, the sleepless nights, the Hoover Dam,
the cry of, “A Brazilian!”
Vegas nights, with a never-ending need to force-feed
you with lines of superior excitement day after day after day
stop â€¦let me off this roulette table
Salt Lake City, San Hose, Greyhound coach, take me away to
snow and mountains, forests and lakes, and then
nothing in between, a boring baron scene of Idaho, Idaho
this place is a place a man need never go, up
up and up to Canada, the closest thing to civilization
in a continent corroded by its smacked-up shot-down pauper people
5 thoughts on “Leo Howls for US”
This is wild and really good. It seems like it might have all flowed out in one sitting, no? It has a fresh improvosational quality to it. It FEELS like vegas in here.
I agree. The way all these images string together into portraits of San Francisco, Vegas, and the madness of American culture, is very effective. Great perspective too. When my wife and I were backpacking through the yucatan, the greatest compliments we got were when people mistook us for canadians – meaning we didn’t act like asshole american tourists.
I find the beat generation references/influences (Ginsberg and Kerouac immediately come to mind) in each part of this poem engaging. However, the racist language in the second part is a turn-off. The use of the “n” word is a turn-off, “niggers selling drugs and jewelry,” and “the food, the fun, the Mexican with the gun” strikes me as offensive and unnecessary (perhaps he struggled with the internal rhyme, but perhaps Lichy will explain it in context if the traveler is racist I’m being hypersensitive as a writer who is not white. Also, the use of alliteration and consonance appears more stylish than substantial when describing Vegas. I’m not sure if the writer should have used “baron” when describing the boring scene of Idaho in the last part. The imagery seems as flat as the sentiment in these lines. The text overall is riddled with mechanical errors, but I agree with the previous comments regarding improvisation (which would explain the misspellings). And the madness of American culture from the narrator’s perspective is palatable, with or without the distasteful, racist language.
good point danna. i was interested to see how people would respond to this and am surprised its taken this long. let’s see what the author has to say? author?
I hear echoes in a canyon. author…..author…….author…….??? good topic for dialogue though. I just saw Merchant of Venice at the guthrie theater in Minneapolis – a play that’s a long-time lightening rod for feelings about racism in literature. My mexican sister-in-law saw Sherlock as someone who got what he had coming. My lilly-white son was offended by the insensitiveness of the play and, despite what he agreed was a sympathetic portrayal of Shylock, was offended by the lightheartedness of the ending and many of the “jokes” throughout. He didn’t think anyone younger than 18 should see the play. I thought it was a brilliant portrayal of the way an outsider is treated by the dominant culture, but was also taken aback and offended by the lighthearted manner in which the play ends. I’m also still undecided if the actor’s sympathic portrayal is inherent in Shakespeare’s writing, though I tend to think it is.
As for this poem, if the author found a replacement for the offensive word “nigger,” then is the remaining stereotypical image okay as a form of poetic expression? The “mexican with a gun” would be an equivalent stereotype and Danna brings that up as an similar problem. In my neighborhood, neither stereotype would be unheard of, but also neither would be an accurate description of most african-americans or mexican-americans who live here. But it would still be an image born of real experience in the neighborhood – a true image. In fact, both could be people I’ve laughed and drank with, as well as people I’ve had conflict with. Further, they could be people my neighbors have literally hated – because of the prevalent stereotype – even though the recipients might not have entirely deserved that kind of contempt. But in some respects they might, particularly in the case of guns. The last instance I heard of guns, though, involved a white guy who’s now sitting in jail because he killed someone. In fact, it’s at least as typical.
Should real-life images that perpetuate stereotypes be taboo in poetry? Do they need to be balanced with true images that originate in the dominant culture? I’ve seen white hucksters selling watches. I’ve seen white guys with guns. But do we only notice and write about blacks and mexicans? How about white governments that drop bombs that kill thousands of brown people? And get away with it?
What Danna raises seems like a good question to me. Personally, I usually stay away from sensitive stereotypes unless I’m going to emphasize the positive or a different angle on the whole affair. At least, I think I do.
I’d love to hear what Leo has to say about this. This is a legitimate point that’s worth discussing. I just wonder if anyone’s willing to discuss it.