Polaroids at a Yard Sale
Ralph J. Long, Jr.
ISBN: 978-1-59948-884-4, ~44 pages, $13 (+ shipping)
Projected Release Date: September 28, 2021
The Advance Sale Discount price for this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $17/book (which includes shipping) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, PO BOX 690100, Charlotte, NC 28227-7001.
Ralph J. Long Jr. is the author of the chapbook, A Democracy Divided (Poetry Box, 2018). His work has appeared in the anthology Ambrosia: A Conversation About Food and the journals: Common Ground Review, Stoneboat Literary Journal, The Poeming Pigeon, Ursa Minor, Zingara Poetry Review among others. Born in Brooklyn New York, he has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for thirty five years. A graduate of Haverford College, he resides in Oakland with his wife, Liz.
Long turns the epistolary poem into biography and social history, mulling it all over: our terrible political conundrum, the great figures of the arts, and the joy and pain of truly seeing. In a voice somehow tender, celebratory, humorous, and tough, the poet asks us to walk through the yard sale at his side. The result is to experience the storm that is our human family in 2021: jagged, wounded, infused with glimmers of hope. ~Caroline Goodwin
Polaroids at a Yard Sale is an apt title for Ralph Long’s new poetry collection. Written as letters seeking advice about the problems of our time to a miscellany of figures literary and historic, they are filled with compassion and gentle good humor. As we read, we wish to receive one of these honest epistles and hope to have answers to Long’s serious, wry questions. If Ferlinghetti writes back, please let me know. ~Peter Hamer, author of It’s Just You and Me, Mr. Moon.
The voice in these image-rich poem letters—imaginarily plucked mid-correspondence from an enviable roster of literary pen pals—bluntly, yet tenderly, divulges worldly growing pains and turns to luminaries: “Could you / offer some new words for this place?” Polaroids at a Yard Sale is a monument to ephemera’s overlap with the unknown. When Ralph J. Long Jr. writes to Ferlinghetti, the question is for you, dear reader: “What would you preserve when nature / shows us our fragility?” ~Ash Good, author of we are not ready for what we are
A letter to Allen Ginsberg on the New Year
Recreational marijuana, the new Valium is legal. Joints,
brownies, lollipops for sale like booze. No more need for
Alice Toklas’ special recipe. The Haight, Mission and Marina
have the skunk scent of cannabis folded in the fog, it’s hard
to smell fish at the wharf. You’re thinking, it’s always been
recreational. Things changed. Weed became medicinal pot.
Nixon turned in his grave. The Feds left the growers & dealers
alone. Same-sex marriage has been around for two years, but
don’t expect an easy time getting a license in Dixie where the
Rebel flag has returned, rallying an agitated population struggling
to keep up. AIDS has been corralled as a chronic infection bringing
hope but not nirvana. Religion hovers, pushing politicians, despite
fewer people attending services. There is more interest in the
Kardashians, a clan famous for being famous and wearing little
clothing, their father helped O.J. beat the murder rap. The shades
of McCarthy and Hoover lurk. Morality is negotiable in Congress,
with questioning of hands out for cash and on non-consenting
women, they are having a hard time now. Still, adultery gets a
pass, if one votes against a woman’s right to choose. We have
been at war for sixteen years. Retired generals serve a president
who Ike would have snubbed on the golf course. Volunteers
fight an enemy that invokes God more than we do. Leaders don’t
remember the drubbing by General Giap; instead, they praise
the military they avoided serving in; purchasing trillions in
armaments, mortgaging the nation. Drones attack uncertain
targets while the promise of eternal sex drives suicide bombers.
North Korea has the bomb and ICBM’s. Hawaii is testing sirens.
We need a prophet, a guide. If you left anything in the files with
Lawrence, can he please publish it?
A letter to Neruda about tomatoes in winter
Why did your words call from the shelf today?
Your ode raised cold memories of the trinity of
cellophane wrapped tomatoes needing a razor’s
edge to slice; iceberg lettuce as dense as a bowling
ball and bottles of artificially flavored dressings.
I should not be angry with you. The aromas of
braised meats and slow proofing yeast fill my
kitchen. My fingers are stained by hand crushed
San Marzanos. Sun-dried Romas were a perfect
accent at lunch. These keepers of last year’s warmth
are winter succor but your short lines pierced me:
resurrecting a desire for sea salt on Brandywines;
ethereal pan y tomate in Espana and slow afternoons
eating garden fresh slices on mayonnaise slathered
bread. Pain conjures a reverie: favas, fiddleheads,
peas jostling a summer starved mind. It is too late
for lardoons, bitter chicories and citrus as antidote
to my malaise. I squeeze the plastic lemon from
the refrigerator for its false tang of freshness but
must wait for the first sweet cherry tomato before
I wait impatiently for the solstice,
A letter to Patti Smith in Rockaway
A photo of you drinking coffee in a café brought
back a Rockaway that has faded like a tintype,
memories untrustworthy, eroded. We came every
weekend to a stretch of sand that seemed ours by
right. Carrying cases of fast warming beer, we
sunburned in Speedos pretending to be fearless.
We wanted the iodined and oiled girls in untied
bikini tops seeking tans without lines. Afraid of,
rejection or falling for one who was not Catholic
and unacceptable to bring to our faith sworn parents.
Our limitations amplified when we walked the shore.
Gay men, not rich or buff enough for Fire Island,
stood naked among topless older women who enjoyed
our teenage stares even as we recoiled at their fallen
breasts so less exciting than the centerfold perfection
hidden in our bedrooms. Boom boxes competed with
Motown and Metal. Men who were just older flexed
to impress girls who might bring more thrilling nights
than those from distant neighborhoods. Bravado
swirled in contingents from Bedford-Stuyvesant and
Bensonhurst who were ready for a fight. That their
brothers were soldiers together, trying not to die in
Vietnam, meant nothing to those never called to go.
To the west was a gated place, the Irish Riviera,
Breezy, in the shorthand of home. One could see the
Twin Towers, architectural wonders not yet symbols
of loss. A retreat where cops, who hassled us for
drinking in parks, shotgunned beers with their firemen
brothers-in-law. An idyll away from the adrenaline
crushes of the city. We dreamed of belonging there.
Hope you have a good summer,