Dear Switchback Editorial Team,
What follows are two of several found letters written by the little
known (rather obscure) Bay Area poet Jaybird McQueen to the legendary
Bay Area poet Jack Spicer. It appears as though the two poets knew each
other very well. These letters would seem to have been written while
McQueen was serving aboard ship as a merchant marine. A few (such as
the ones below) were recently discovered lining the inside of a cat
box. I have done my best to restore and transcribe them though an
abundance of wet cat litter has made for a tricky task. Below are the
fruits of less-than-glamorous labour.
15 July 1956
After your last letter, I am hesitant to say which one applies, the
dear or the dearest. And now I wonder--when was I first aware of your
dearness to me? What was I doing, if anything? Maybe I was on
this boat in this ocean. Isn't it strange that we address strangers
as "dear"? But YOU are dear to me that I know though to what degree I
shall remain quiet for the present. Oh, ack! I am tired of being
But back to the ocean because that is ALL I ever seem to think about
these days (along with you of course). You, I think, are like the
ocean. At times, pacific and at other times, completely unpredictable.
And there is our friend Ebbe with his foam, his forever coasting
foam. "call the foam which flys from the crevise/this is the chiton-
reef." That is, he is, mythic. Oh, I can see him now with his big rack
of antler preceding him, poking and piercing the San Francisco fog. I
am thinking about your admonition for him--what did you imagine when
you imagined "reconstituted universe"? Some upwelling of hot material from near the earth's core...somewhere...under the ocean?
When will you write mine I wonder? Perhaps you have already?
I must say good bye for now. It's getting dark and difficult to write.
But before I go, I enclose a poem I call "Non-Compliance". You may
recognize a few words from R.W.E. I had been thinking of you--your wild
speaking or your speaking with the "flower of the mind". I hope you
May the ethereal tides continue to roll and circulate through you.
"Children of the fire" cable of blue
fire: Do what you said you'd do "with the flower
of the mind"
reclines with serpent
skin drum sense
is no different
Geologist speaks fish smack broken-ness
Bare-stript cymbal smoldering
Lakes whole lakes
As if it
were pure vegetable
kingdom and there is nothing to
say Saint Anne
Not all pianos make a sweet smell
seeding death than living this
way vacant lot for disorder and made of it
Pines cones cinder accompliceI
the circumference of your
stricture I am your
opus kicking in
the glass door
2? September 1956
Dear Watchman, What of the Night?
I don't know what to make of it. I've been having more of those dreams
I was telling you about. You are so kind to try and interpret them for
me, Jungian friend.
I am on the ship and it's twilight and I've come out for air after
dinner, and look overboard and see and hear something, some things
swimming in the water, and realize that they are not sea creatures, but
rabbits, rabbits in the water! And then I notice that they appear to be
circling the entire ship as we move along, like a rabbit motorcade. And
I know they are rabbits, their ears are there gliding above water, like
shark fins. Why are they there? What is their purpose? What do they
mean to accomplish?
All these strange dreams filled with animals. Some speaking--others
reticent. Do you ever have dreams with animals in them Jack? I almost
never dream of people anymore. I don't even know if I'm human in my own
dreams. How can one be certain, anyway? What if I am really a great,
big black sea fish with a swim bladder problem and I just keep floating
back up to the surface? And maybe you're an octopus
[Dear Reader, most of the letter from here to near the end has been
destroyed or completely indecipherable].
Memory is a force of nature, isn't it Jack? With a field that acts upon
the heart and brain and limbs and pulls one this way and that.
I hope you are well and writing and that I will see you very, very soon.
At the end of things