First Light in Broad Street

Cover: First Light in February, Allen Hoey. Artist: Paul Davison

Aside from writing my own books, I love to conceive, design and print other books. I’ve done this for love and for money over the years, but this is where and how I first got the bug.

First Light in Broad Street

Waking before dawn to make the coffee, I see
from the dimming stars that for once we’ll see sun.
And there it rises, a glancing hot spot on the snow
of early February, a buttery glow upon the pines.

Having worn a long-sleeve purple tie-dyed tee shirt
to bed, it’s no wonder I am reminded of you back
when we first met. Half a century ago we were very
young and were held in thrall to our many desires.

We wanted to be famous writers. We wanted to stop
the war. We wanted an epic love. We wanted to live
together with all our friends and make a little art 
and a little revolution. We wanted a sky-high life.

The bunch of us moved into a ramshackle house
at the low-rent end of a middle-class neighborhood
and shoveled out the debris left by previous tenants
who ran a crisis hotline into the ground and blew town.

Their sense of psychedelic decor took a dark turn. 
Behind the refrigerator was a mural–a set of stairs led
down to where a dark figure wielded a flaming sword. 
A black wall, when primed, bled demented acid poetry.

So we made ourselves at home. I figure we each lived 
on three dollars a day–one dollar for rent and utilities, 
one dollar for food, and one left over for everything else:
beer, dope, art supplies, toilet paper, underground comics.

Two semesters of the writing workshop had left you with
poems enough to make up a little chapbook. With freedom
of the press belonging to them that own one, we decided
to publish it ourselves under our own label, Banjo Press.

The name was taken from a Steve Martin routine where he
demonstrated on his banjo why it was that you couldn’t play 
a sad song on one. We may have been high at the time, but
the corner we turned then turned into the rest of our lives.

Paul made the illustrations: a rail line curving off into the dark, 
a drinker leaning on a pinball machine, a barroom panorama
with a pool table in use at the back, a man in a room papered 
with grinning stretcher bearers, a hungover man with coffee.

The cover we printed in-house, a multi-color silkscreen that Paul
painted on the mesh with tusche and glue. We hung clothesline
in the kitchen and took turns squeegee-ing the ink onto paper
and hanging each sheet to dry before the next color went on.

A man sits at a table with a mug, a single window behind him. 
A teapot wraps around to the back where bowls, a full ashtray
and last night’s empty bottles stand. Below the art runs title and
author, “First Light in February,” Allen Hoey. On the back, $1.50.

By February, anyone with sense has had enough of dark, short
cold days, of being mewed up inside walking the same floors.
But into this February day a little light has come, the first sun,
warm on my face as I stand at the window, remembering you.

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1 Response to First Light in Broad Street

  1. David Duff says:

    Sweet. And so familiar.

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