James Hampton, 1909, Elloree, SC - 1964, Washington, DC
Custodian, General Services Administration; Maker of The Throne
I dreamed I had been dreaming,
And sadness did descend.
And when from the first dreaming
I woke, I walked behind
The window crossed with smoke and rain
In Washington, DC,
The neighbors strangling newspapers
Or watching the TV
Down on the rug in undershirts
Like bankrupt criminals.
The street where Revelation
Made James Hampton miserable
Lay wet beyond the glass,
And on it moved streetcorner men
In a steam of crossed-out clues
And pompadours and voodoo and
Sweet Jesus made of ivory;
But when I woke, the headlights
Shone out on Elloree.
Two endless roads, four endless fields,
And where I woke, the veils
Of rain fell down around a sign:
FRI & SAT JAM W/THE MEAN
MONSTER MAN & II.
Nobody in the Elloree,
South Carolina, Stop-n-Go,
Nobody in the Sunoco,
Or in all of Elloree, his birthplace, knows
His name. But right outside
Runs Hampton Street, called, probably,
For the owners of his family.
God, are you there, for I have been
Long on these highways and I've seen
Miami, Treasure Coast, Space Coast,
I have seen where the astronauts burned,
I have looked where the Fathers placed the pale
Orange churches in the sun,
Have passed through Georgia in its green
Eternity of leaves unturned,
But nothing like Elloree.
Sam and I drove up from Key West, Florida,
Visited James Hampton's birthplace in South Carolina,
And saw The Throne
At the National Museum of American Art in Washington.
It was in a big room. I couldn't take it all in,
And I was a little frightened.
I left and came back home to Massachusetts.
I'm glad The Throne exists:
My days are better for it, and I feel
Something that makes me know my life is real
To think he died unknown and without a friend,
But this feeling isn't sorrow. I was his friend
As I looked at and was looked at by the rushing-together parts
Of this vision of someone who was probably insane
Growing brighter and brighter like a forest after a rain--
And if you look at the leaves of a forest,
At its dirt and its heights, the stuttering mystic
Replication, the blithering symmetry,
You'll go crazy, too. If you look at the city
And its spilled wine
And broken glass, its spilled and broken people and hearts,
You'll go crazy. If you stand
In the world you'll go out of your mind.
But it's all right,
What happened to him. I can, now
That he doesn't have to,
I don't believe that Christ, when he claimed
The last will be first, the lost life saved--
When he implied that the deeply abysmal is deeply blessed--
I just can't believe that Christ, when faced
With poor, poor people aspiring to become at best
The wives and husbands of a lonely fear,
Would have spoken redundantly.
Surely he couldn't have referred to some other time
Or place, when in fact such a place and time
Are unnecessary. We have a time and a place here,
He waits forever in front of diagrams
On a blackboard in one of his photographs,
Labels that make no sense attached
To the radiant, alien things he sketched,
Which aren't objects, but plans.
Of his last dated
Vision he stated:
"This design is proof of the Virgin Mary descending
Into Heaven . . ."
The streetcorner men, the shaken earthlings--
It's easy to imagine his hands
When looking at their hands
Of leather, loving on the necks
Of jugs, sweetly touching the dice and bad checks,
And to see in everything a making
Just like his, an unhinged
Deity in an empty garage
Dying alone in some small consolation.
Photograph me photograph me photo
Graph me in my suit of loneliness,
My tie which I have been
Saving for this occasion,
My shoes of dust, my skin of pollen,
Addressing the empty chair; behind me
The Throne of the Third Heaven
Of the Nations Millennium General Assembly.
i AM ALPHA AND OMEGA THE BEGiNNiNG
AND THE END,
The trash of government buildings,
Faded red cloth,
Jelly glasses and lightbulbs,
Metal (cut from coffee cans),
Upholstery tacks, small nails,
And simple sewing pins,
Kraft paper, desk blotters,
Gold and aluminum foils,
Neighborhood bums the foil
On their wine bottles,
And I command you not to fear.
- Denis Johnson
This poem is basically exactly how I feel about the Throne. Exactly. It's terrifying and dumbfounding and elating and terrifying again. I can't stop thinking about it.