Issue 31: Jedediah Smith

Pepkin’s Travels 1


On July 13, birthdate of English poet John Clare, lightning strikes three times at Con Edison in 1977 and New York blacks-out, the city renounced and all its works dark, flights shut down, tunnels and bridges closed, the island impermeable as Gilead to Ephraimites trying to cross the River, sealed off by Shibboleth, and benighted as Blind Willie McTell, recording “We Got to Meet Death One Day” for Decca 44 years before in the Pythian Temple on West 70th among the flaming urns, seated Pharaonic figures, and the Knights with their motto “Friendship, Charity, Benevolence” or Blind Hanawa Hokiichi who could not read so memorized everything read to him creating a living library of the mind which he compiled into the 3000 volumes of the Gunsho Ruijū, the foundation of the kokugaku movement to refocus scholarship away from China which permeated Japan and back to native writings, both men, eyes impermeable to light, dilating along other paths like Madagascar poison frogs, little bioprospectors eating poisonous insects and arthropods until toxins ooze from their skins thwarting predators – frog croaks loud, and maidens dare not pass – but also opening them to pollution – fear the noisome toad and shun the grass – appearances are hazy and Clare went crazy, Clare went crazy during the Dog Days of July when Pluto that dour underworld planet shines over our world all night, lined up opposite the Sun, at its brightest, and tho our eyes are still blind to him, we dilate to his influence in other ways: Aleatoric standing with blooded bronze or brick in hand, Ephraimites forty and two thousand fallen at the passages of Jordan, or Sam's Son’s pillars tumbling among 1,600 looted stores, a thousand fired buildings, and 3,800 arrested looters.






Pepkin’s Travels 2 


Hieroglyphs climbing the Obelisk in Central Park speak through the Bastille stormed 14 July 1789 sending Napoleon’s Commission des Sciences et des Arts ten years (plus one day’s bissextile slippage) later to Fort Julien in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta where a lieutenant’s palm brushes away sand encrusted in the carved letters of the granite stele which deciphers the language of the gods with the language of documents with the language of the Greeks about a decree establishing the divine cult of the Temple priesthood on 27 November 197 BC, by God’s reckoning, or 27 March 196 BC (four months’ slippage in the BCE) according to the word of the dēmos, a sloppery slip for those within the Temple who live by the doctrine error non habet ius set in stone of the “Syllabus of Errors” by Pope Pius IX whose less-than catholic cathedrals aspire heavenward like obelisks tapering up to a flame of gold plate to reflect the eternal and unchanging (but for a little occultation now and again) sun and, while “universities too are kind of these cathedrals of knowledge,” a cathedral goes down as well as up, cellars filled with coercion by the cord, by water, and by fire, and only a small slip shifts the guardians of cult to the guardians of culture, short as the walk from territio verbalis oder lexis to territio realis, racking up people as easily as tipped statues, unless, in the face of Pharaoh Aleatoric Aquinas “erring reason binds” before this cultivated forest nothing but clear-cut stumps of plinths and nothing left to anticipate but la terreur.





Pepkin’s Travels 3 


On a sunny Saturday May Day 1982, with eyes on his palms, Pepkin treads from the stoop of his building, walks under rust of ponderous iron-work fire escape narrow railing acting as window box for tipping pots of wild roses and one black flower, then winds through the jump-ropers from PS 59 chanting:


Witch girl, Bat girl, Devil girl, Queen

Dancing in the forest, till they were seen

Made a mistake

Kissed a snake

How many doctors did it take

One named Proctor

(girl jumps in)

Out went the doctor

(girl jumps out)

One named Tituba

(girl jumps in)

Left for Yoruba

(girl jumps out)

One named a friend

(girl jumps in)

One named a foe

(girl jumps out)

One named everyone he did know

(jump rope turners stop turning and all jump back in)

Red hot chili poppet

Red hot chili poppet

Red hot chili poppet

(line repeats as rope turners turn faster & faster until all the jumpers miss a jump)


then skips by his tobacconist who knows his preferred blend of Latakia and Virginia rolled in unbleached paper for his custom smokes, then crosses the Avenue of the Americas with the crowd against the light a little too late, nearly sideswiped by a Hansom Cab, glances at the deli where they shave the tongue and stone ground the mustard the way he requests for his sandwich, steps over purple glass deadlights embedded a century in sidewalks, his shadow crossing through vault light beams in silent basement immigrant factory below, and bounces over sprung steel plates covering loading stairs, before hopping the Broadway bus to Union Square where he passes wheat grasses and hay to buy organic sugar cane at the Greenmarket, then retraces his journey back past more double-dutch:


Eenie meeny pepsa-deenie

Ahh bahh ha thorne boobalini

Ashes ashes

Salute to the Captain

Bow to the Queen

Shake your head with nitroglycerine


to crawl back into his basement room under the collected stories above, above the abandoned tunnels below, and beside the incinerator glowing red.









ACT 1 of 9


much like the world, a solo Pepkin’s passing divides pitches and acts: through the Circle in the Square of Washington Park;


a short midway long as a tarmac sideshow in which Ol Massa Confuse-Us occults about the first matter upon rotting leaves under denuded trees;


in the 8th floor black box, shadowing NYU drama students with their magic lantern show sifting Triangle Factory fire’s asch-brown leavings.


A mild man or superman leaps fallen buildings in the dark, as his question, when a mother is not a mother, goes unheard among falling brickbats of scattering tarnation.


Tenors of Exism with accompaniment of solid flute and headless drum sing Who’s got nothin? We got nothin! How much nothin? Nothin left to lose! to the corner comics and tarot dealers of ancient rustic hippie stock.


Madam Blue Phur maneuvers in the blind spot of an audience thick with children – or entices and procures Felippas and Lisas for the Johns and Joels in the shade of a neglected furze bush on the edge of Hampstead Heath.


The heat is drawn by accident as above a cardinal so below Pepkin’s “purdy, purdy, purdy” intended not for Mme. Blue on her yet lands.






ACT 2 of 9


Old Papa Saturday raises his sun and idolizes the young: beams of sickle-cell sunburn;


a long dark soul the square of a lawn on which naturists unite about Queen Sheba the Fire-Eater beside a brown bear in a crucible dancing till nigredo below Stupid Cupid having a go at Supergirl in her crimson cape;


in push-cart Bonapartes charring their long pork skewers beside pillars of salt’n’pepper, filling the streets with smoke.


Ravens carry on asking “Whom do ye seek?” above Street Preacher Jed walking on the fountain, heckled by Donald Million in a dead broke suit acting the fool for spectators rocking in broken thrift-store pews.


A tournament upon the village green with a pale cop’s mount to win before his question, when a mother is a jackal, gets snuffed out by a jazzman’s funeral with accordions out of tune and marchers out of step.


Ugo the Mentalist reads the mind of ivy-crowned Grace scheming to divorce Will then free to funk as a monk – or makes a modest proposal that turns out a Barbie girl into the shadows of a chamber of trees, on the edge of noxious weed-choked fields.


Pepkin passes the day ahead of Dead-Eye Dick following to gather the ashes of his drifting wood uncocked by an arctic dark lady to bleach in the sun.

Jedediah Smith taught literature, mythology, and history at the City College of San Francisco. His recent books include poetry The Gunslinger in Technicolor (Mount Diablo 2020) and a translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s book

of poetics How to Make Verse (CreateSpace 2022).  

Copyright © 2023 by Jedediah Smith, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author