Proust’s Madeleine

By Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982 Kenneth Rexroth
Somebody has given my
Baby daughter a box of
Old poker chips to play with.   
Today she hands me one while   
I am sitting with my tired   
Brain at my desk. It is red.   
On it is a picture of
An elk’s head and the letters   
B.P.O.E.—a chip from
A small town Elks’ Club. I flip   
It idly in the air and
Catch it and do a coin trick   
To amuse my little girl.
Suddenly everything slips aside.   
I see my father
Doing the very same thing,   
Whistling “Beautiful Dreamer,”   
His breath smelling richly
Of whiskey and cigars. I can   
Hear him coming home drunk   
From the Elks’ Club in Elkhart   
Indiana, bumping the
Chairs in the dark. I can see   
Him dying of cirrhosis
Of the liver and stomach
Ulcers and pneumonia,
Or, as he said on his deathbed, of   
Crooked cards and straight whiskey,   
Slow horses and fast women.

Kenneth Rexroth, "Proust’s Madeleine" from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm

Source: The Collected Shorter Poems (1966)

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Poet Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Syllabic

 Kenneth  Rexroth

Biography

Kenneth Rexroth was born in South Bend, Indiana and frequently moved around the Midwest during his childhood. He led a tumultuous life that included being orphaned at 14, constant traveling both in the US and abroad, intense political activism, and four marriages. Largely self-educated, he is one of the most well-read poets of the twentieth century. His poems, which influenced Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Poetic Terms Syllabic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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