Lin Nelson Benedek: Two Poems

Lin Nelson Benedek, a third generation Californian, lives in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains with her husband and son. She works as a psychotherapist and is a recent graduate of the MFA program in poetry at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where she had the great privilege of being mentored by Anna Journey, Dorianne Laux, Vievee Francis, Kwame Dawes and Sandra Alcosser. She aspires to write generous poetry—ecstatic and meditative, reverent and irreverent— and to speak from her soul about the sorrows and joys that make up our lives.

*****

The First Time I Heard The Doors

After Tess Gallagher

I was the kind of girl who— when Light My Fire blazed
in the Cal Tech Auditorium and my date, a Norwegian
science genius, got drunk and broke beer bottles
against the wall until he passed out,
and the music was pure sex—disappeared
with a classmate’s boyfriend, told myself it was okay
because she wasn’t that good a friend and my
first real love had just broken up with me. Mom
wanted to sit up and talk over Ovaltine when I got home.
I was out of Winston’s and so she offered me one of hers.
She couldn’t sleep after the divorce. She didn’t let on she knew
I’d been drinking. She didn’t bother anymore to tell me
that it was best to kiss a boy only if you loved him,
best to wait until you were married to have sex.
Long before, a boy had already reached into my shirt
and stuck his hand into my bathing suit and led me upstairs
to a room with a tufted bedspread. Mom had taken one look at me
the next morning, then took me to the ob-gyn who’d delivered
me. The speculum hurt. He didn’t say a word. Just frowned.
Mom made me promise I wouldn’t do it again and I didn’t
until New Year’s Eve, when I lied and saw the same boy.
She said if I was pregnant she and Stevie and I
would go live in San Francisco. But I wasn’t and
soon I had a boyfriend and she saw us wrestling on the floor
after school and there were other boys and
we never discussed my sex life again.
Desire, defiance, hunger for touch. My father wasn’t around
to know about it. At the drive-in; on rooftops; in a taxi cab on Avenida
Fernandez Juncos on Spring Break in San Juan; in the social hall
of the Unitarian Church; in the library stacks and stairwells; in a VW
van outside the Shrine Auditorium, after seeing Procol Harem and Country Joe
and the Fish; after hours, in the dining hall; in a sleeping bag in the backyard
at Mom’s house; in my boyfriend’s driveway next to an oil spill from
his Oldsmobile; at the cast party of the high school play. It felt too good
to stop. That boy. The others. The boy with the big freckled hand.
Meanwhile at school we were reading Shakespeare, learning that love
can restore balance; Tom Jones and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fanny Hill.
In my head I was starring in my own book, a bildundsroman, a kuntsleroman
because I also loved books about the road and the sea. Road scholar, a sword
swallower, a hollerer. Down to the juicy bits. I had already decided
which kind of heroine I wanted to be.
***

Leon Russell at the Ark

About four songs in he said My wife
tells me I need to talk more to you folks
and he told us about growing up in
Oklahoma and playing piano
in church at fourteen and going home to
the crystal radio he’d built himself,
only got two stations—church music and
rhythm and blues—and when he tried to sneak
some of the sounds into his church-playing
the Methodists would have none of it and
found another fourteen-year-old to play
for them and because Oklahoma was
a dry state it meant they didn’t have whiskey
laws and he could play in the bars and he
could drink and he said he was pretty much
over alcohol by the time he was twenty, and
he studied piano—Tchaikovsky and
others; but mostly he studied B.B. King,
and Leon told us how he’d moved out to L. A.
to go into advertising but got
his feelings hurt a few times and started
playing on other people’s records and
the Flying Burrito Brothers wanted
to meet him and that’s when he got his green
silk hat, the one Graham Parsons gave him, which
he later discovered had Al Jolson’s
name inside and he talked about Ivory Joe
Hunter from Kansas City and sang from
the B sides and played Tightrope and Georgia
and Mad Dogs and Englishmen and talked about
touring with Joe Cocker and about how his
manager had called to say B.B. wanted
Leon to write a song for him, and B.B.
sat with Leon and told him stories, saying
a line and then playing it on his guitar
and when Leon played the song he’d written—
he called it Hummingbird—B.B. cried and said
This has never happened to me before and
Leon told us he’d written another
song long ago for a friend who’d fallen
asleep, deep asleep and snoring, when she’d
come to watch him record at Muscle Shoals
and he told us he was going to sing this
song for her now, for Emily, who
had died without warning a few weeks back
and at that point in the show he was alone
on stage at his big white piano and then he
played Song for You and I cried and held my
husband‘s knee and he put his hand over
mine and I remembered when I’d first heard it
back in college and remembered falling in love
years later with the Ray Charles cover
and when we gave Leon a standing ovation
he stood up at the piano and sat right down
again and said Those of you who know me
know I’m not a big fan of walking so this
is the point in the show where we’re supposed
to go offstage and act surprised that you
want us to come back, and he said But I’m
just going to play you some good old rock
and roll and he launched into Great Balls of Fire
and we gave him another ovation
and on the way out Taj Mahal was playing
over the speaker system—Tangled up
in Blue—and a homeless man outside
the theater said if we wanted an autograph
Leon was out back at the bus.

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