an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Local writer Monty Jones has shared four new poems with TEOA, including one that that sums up the Austin mindset quite nicely: “When I moved here, people told me I was too late.” It’s the eternal refrain of a certain breed of Austin nostalgics, for whom things we always better, cooler, cheaper, just a mere five minutes before whenever it was you moved to town.
When I moved here
people told me I was too late.
I should have seen it in the Fifties
or the Forties or some other century,
before it was ruined once and for all,
“ruined for good,” as some of them said,
by all these people crowding in.
I found a room downtown for ninety dollars,
an old brick building on a hill,
so out the back I could look at the sunset
with nothing blocking the view.
You should have seen those sunsets.
I ate breakfast in a run-down hotel
and came back at night for the music in the bar.
I bought my ties and shirts
in the basement of a department store.
In a shop about the size of a closet
a bent-over man got my watch to run again.
At almost every corner the curbstones
read Maufrais as if all the streets
were named for the same old family.
Even after I learned where everything was
and could walk around and find my way
not even thinking about it,
and newcomers would ask me for directions
and I would explain to them about
the two First Streets and the two Fifth Streets,
and now and then a mayor or a judge
might shake my hand and call me by name,
and the hotel was torn down
and became a hole in the ground for years,
and I would sometimes not even notice
when an afternoon was growing dark,
even then I never failed to read the curbstone
when I came to one marked Maufrais.
The future and the futuristic failed together
and failed equally. All the needles and portholes
and saucer-shaped roofs have been torn down.
They have been carted to the sodden, smoking landfills.
Now the bare ground is considered an improvement.
Meanwhile the merely modern buildings want to leak
in the least grit-speckled rain. Their glassed-in tenants gasp.
For a while the past was ransacked like an old country
suffering an invasion. The picturesque took the place of art.
Whatever is coming next, the carpenters are poised
with their ladders and sawhorses and nailguns,
the plumbers are waiting in their battered trucks.
They’ve started coming up the creek
to browse in the yards and gardens,
standing like bears against the trees
to reach a plum or a droopy peach,
brushing into the figs for a special treat.
If I come home late at night
I will see them decorating the lawns,
even the narrow medians, as if someone
had cast them in bronze for a rustic effect,
but getting only the usual clutter.
If I rise early, perhaps to run
out past the stop sign and up and down
the hill, then into the park and back again,
I may huff around a corner and meet one,
almost crashing flat into its velvet flanks.
It is likely to stand its ground and chuff
at me and drop its pronged head,
knowing a trespasser when it sees one.
North Lamar Bus
The bus stopped near a halfway house,
a shelter, some little factory
for making brooms or keychains,
where people otherwise incapable
could escape their hospitals,
walled like prisons or preserves.
One woman was always the last one on,
a character from Dürer,
eyes of a fish or frog, a mouth
that gaped and bubbled, some menace
to her hair, stiff-brushed
but ready to spring at something.
She stomped in the aisle, a giant’s feet
aiming at what might be there,
bugs we didn’t see fleeing before her.
Her work done, she would turn on
one of us and catch an embarrassed eye
and announce, “I am disturbed!”
We looked among ourselves,
making an evaluation. We agreed
she was able, well enough, to ride our bus.
Monty Jones is a writer in Austin. His poems have appeared in the Texas Observer, Christian Science Monitor, North Dakota Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, New Mexico Humanities Review, Arcadia, and other publications.