Jim Hazard: The Missing Year
He blew in out of the cold, set his stuff down,
And wrote his name,
JIM HAZARD, in large capital letters
In chalk on the blackboard, and I think
What a terrific hard-boiled name.
It could have been written on a door with frosted glass
With PRIVATE DETECTIVE underneath
In a cheap office with a single desk
In downtown L.A. after the war.
Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Jim Hazard.
Walking into this class, there’s maybe twenty of us,
Mostly hung-over baby boomers,
Some stoned (it’s 1967),
Most more worried about the war we watch on TV at 5:30
Than what is about to go down in this classroom in Albee Hall,
A three-credit course in “Early American Lit”
Taught by this “prof” who looks like maybe Holden Caulfield might
At thirty-five, a couple years out of some grad school
With a Masters degree burning a hole in his wallet.
He’s part Dean Moriarty, he’s been on the road.
He’s been around the block.
And how he wound up here is anybody’s guess.
He looks like maybe he could have hit a curve
In his day,
Or scored on a dive off tackle
On third and goal.
He’s got the James Dean “cool” look down.
Tweed coat, black turtleneck, work boots
(That look like maybe real, honest-to-God factory-work
Has been done in them),
A scarf and army jacket when it snows.
Hair over his collar,
Sideburns, an open, honest
Working man’s son’s face
That I’ve seen plenty like growing up in Milwaukee.
Here’s what we’re reading--
(No shit, a semester of this stuff)
Cotton Mather, Longfellow, Melville
(Billy Budd this time, thank God,
Not that insufferable Ahab and the whale again),
And, if time permits, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.
He starts out each class reading to us.
Some of the time it’s the stuff he’s getting paid to teach,
But more often
He’s reading Brautigan and Kerouac,
Japanese haiku (in Albee Hall?),
Even Ginsberg’s (who we all know, his picture’s on the back of
“Bringing It All Back Home,” hanging out with Dylan) “Howl.”
He puts on glasses when he reads
And runs his hands through his hair.
He’s been blessed with a voice made for reading aloud,
And he puts his heart on his sleeve every class
So the stuff he reads comes out of his mouth
Sounding like some sort of cool jazz horn solo.
He’s sitting on a table
Giving the words on the paper, in the book, life.
And suddenly those sentences start making sense
(And might come in handy
In a bar one of these endless saloon nights
When some brown-eyed girl
Hears you casually mention Leaves of Grass
And thinks maybe you’re the romantic type
She’s been looking for).
And I’ll be damned if the class isn’t always full,
Even St. Patrick’s Day.
Forget that attendance is never taken, we’re always there waiting
When he waltzes in late, which is cool.
He laughs a lot, I think maybe he finds the bunch of us
He seems to be the only Technicolor guy on this small
Black-and-white Midwestern college campus.
Co-eds were all hot for him, and
I’d hear over beers: “Did you know
The dude drinks gin straight with with no ice?” “He plays the trumpet!”
“He’s married.” “Bullshit, he’s divorced.”
Or: “Did you ever consider he’s a queer? Whitman, Ginsberg,
Even Kerouac, they’re all queers.”
He listened to Chet Baker (a junkie),
And Bix Beiderbecke (some white guy who played as good as Satchmo, he bragged),
And Jack Teagarden (I swear my old man listened to him).
And somebody said they were at a party he was at
And he rolled and smoked a big fat doobie.
He put out a free weekly poetry sheet, Free Penny Poems,
And seemed desperate to print damn near anything,
So I sent him some late night scribblings of mine,
Melancholy, “nobody understands me” crap
Under a phony name.
Next Friday there it was, in black and white,
Getting handed out at the student union.
When the snow melted he organized the first (and last) “Be-In”
In the Fox River Valley,
Some lame psychedelic cover band (The Velvet Whip)
Providing the soundtrack (I think they played “Hey Joe” three times).
He’d hoped it would turn into a kind of Golden Gate Park groovy mellow scene,
But, so sorry, Jim, you forgot you are in fucking Oshkosh,
Where the girls and the laughs and the action was still in the beer joints.
Then one weekend he and a bunch of goofs I knew
(Ed Sanders of The Fugs was in town and along for the show)
Got wasted and drove to Appleton
And held some sort of “exorcism” at the grave of Joe McCarthy
On that bloated bully’s birthday.
The locals weren’t amused. I think the cops were called out and put an end to it.
A few weeks later, like an LP after the last cut has played,
The semester ended.
No fanfare, the needle just lifted and suddenly it was May.
(We made it all the way through, Walt and Emily got their day.)
On my final exam I compared “Sounds of Silence”
To one of Whitman’s great Civil War poems.
And he still gave me a B. I think he gave everybody a B.
(Remember, the war snatched up those who flunked out.)
And that’s all there was to it, really.
That summer, he split,
And I went home.
And when I came back again in autumn
He didn’t. (A tenure problem? The “exorcism”? More dough?)
He’d headed down Highway 41 to Milwaukee, a bigger pond.
He caught on and caught fire at UWM
Writing, teaching, and reading his own poetry.
Then came Suzie Firer, (whose sister, Pat, sat next to me at a Catholic grade school)
And Paul Cebar (see page 17 of Whiting, Indiana)
And James Liddy, the Irish poet and “no stranger to a glass in hand,”
Who my mother invited home one memorable Thanksgiving.
Hazard became the poet laureate of that ‘70s-hip Eastside Milwaukee scene.
He had a couple more kids;
My brother ran into him one night at the Tuxedo
And reported Hazard wasn’t drinking.
He said he lived in a bungalow on Oakland Avenue.
I bought his New Year’s Eve in Whiting book in ’85
(I looked the other day and I discovered I still have two of them.
One is inscribed to “The Burke Boys”).
He put it all out there for everyone to see.
Between those covers, little Jimmy Hazard,
Growing up in a blue-collar factory town
That seemed a lot like South Milwaukee,
With the Elks Club, and the first communions,
Ballgames on the radio all summer long,
And third shift shot and beer joints on every corner.
I could hear his voice when I read his poetry
And I meant to write to say I was proud
But I never put pen to paper,
And that was all a long time ago anyway.
So the other day, for the hell of it, I looked him up
And the computer said he’d died a year ago
And he named his boy Bix
And he played cornet in a circus band
And he was a runner for the bookies
Back in his home town as a kid.
(Turned out he had been around the block a few times.)
But no mention in any obit or tribute
Of Early American Lit
Or Albee Hall
Or “The Be-In”
Or Joe McCarthy
Or Oshkosh in 1967.
Or the good-looking, young guy,
Sitting on the table, reading,
Teaching us Early American Lit,
And so much more.
D.E. Burke is a public defender in Madison, Wisconsin.