Sleepers Awake

Article excerpt

Kenneth Patchen's experimentation with narrative technique and his attention to the expressive possibilities of typographical variation anticipate Chicago Review's later interests in metafiction and concrete poetry (while it also contrasts with realist writers like James T. Farrell, whose work was included in the first volume). These interests, along with his politically-engaged, apocalyptic vision, also endeared Patchen to the Beats. Upon his death in 1972, City Lights Poets Theater held a memorial reading in Patchen's honor; it was chronicled by editor Richard Hack in the Spring 1972 issue of Chicago Review. This selection from the Spring 1946 issue comes from the latter part of Patchen's antinovel, Sleepers Awake, which was published in December 1946.

I've had adventures too, rather beautiful adventures. - I came down the railroad cut at twilight. They had been gaining on me all day. My mouth tasted of sweat and black fear. It doesn't do to let it go too long - You get mixed-up. You begin to think you know what is hunting you down. You begin to think that maybe the only thing which has the power to comfort you is to get caught, to lie helpless and meek before them. You begin to think that the only real escape is to give in, to offer them your life and your soul - because somewhere, in fire and glory, it was arranged that they should have them.

Once I thought I saw myself back there with the pack, more avid and cruel than all of them put together. Since it is shifting and red - I have my little joke now, don't I....

A cage        a ball        a grove
A ball        a grove       a cage
A grove       a cage        a ball

Jesus turn that volume down - This way, by gum, the whole world'll get shaken to pieces...Three women wait beside the river. Their eyes are closed. They have yellow hats. Their hands are full of beheaded children.

We noticed that a sort of light was coming through the walls of the cave. We rushed out and the heavens...diving white fish in a terrible glee...that useable majesty...o all that tractless and grim acreage...that awesome womb opening into the light...

And there were beings moving around in the light.

One of them reached down and touched my face. I felt all my guilt and shame leaving me...

There was a throne.

On the throne sat a beautiful man. He held out a match to my cigarette. His hand had a mouth in it.

Down there is a village, lights winking sleepily at the wind's soft caress. Peace dribbling softly darkly down from the lips of the sky. It's here, oh everything I need is here

oh the dream stirs

reaches out its hand that is covered with eyes

I stumble off the tracks as a milktrain crupples past. A stone cuts into the palm of my foot. Blood trickles down my cheek from the cut of an angry branch. I am hungry, tired, ready to kiss the devil's ass for a kind word and a friendly pat on the head.

Hm, a shack - some sort of light in there by God

knock ruckruck raprap hey! anybody home in there?

for the love of Pete! All right, all right - to hell with you

Wait a minute

Something's the matter in there.

I open the door.

An old man is lying Come on in, son. Sorry I couldn't make you hear before.

Say you're pretty sick. I better get somebody.

No. - Please. Fix yourself something to eat. There's eggs on the shelf, potatoes in the bin...You might fetch me a glass of water.

Sure, sure.

Well's out in the orchard.

Got a bucket?

Under the sink there.

Moon just topping the trees - smell of apple blossoms - damn I want it crude, edgy, stinking with the noble wonder of the most usual things. Legs wide-spread

mumff the bucket hits the sides of the well - the smell of thoughtful water

I'm sorry I was so long.

How is it - Thank you - Umm - out there?

Beautiful. Absolutely breath-taking. …