John F. Blair lived the life of a true westerner. From his birth and boyhood in Idaho, to his death in Seattle last year, John believed only in the things he could see and feel. He did not put much faith in theories or philosophies, "that airy-fairy crap," he'd say. Toward the end of his life, however, he admitted to being a Deist, "like George Washington."
Though John earned his BA in Journalism from the University of Idaho, he detested his first job after graduation. He lasted about a month as a sports reporter, then returned to the job he'd loved in the US Navy -- that of machinist. He built things with his hands: delicate machine parts for Metro busses, a new kitchen for his wife Molly, Lego trucks for his grandchildren.
He crafted poems the way he machined metal -- with great care, one detail at a time. For many years, John belonged to Red Sky Poetry Theater in Seattle, where he performed his pieces with gusto. A month before he died of leukemia, he won first place in a local slam.
The Horsethief's Journal presents John Blair's unique vision of life in the west by special arrangement with Molly Blair. The pieces presented here were originally published in several anthologies, copyrighted 1984-1996 by John Blair. The Blair Family retains all rights.
I, the Watcher
From the First South Bridge,
I watch the stream pass me by.
Eternity sighs past with each second.
From my front porch, I watch Venus
approach the horizon, her progress
measured in the copper web of the great,
Who gives her light, Mr. Edison?
Does she accept collect calls, Mr. Bell?
By the river, I watch ducks snuggle the barges.
I watch a brand-new tug slip past a beached
and broken hull.
I watch factory smoke rise
from stacks hidden by grassy banks.
I watch a landlubber look at boatmen,
and a boatman look at landlubbers.
On Skid Road, I watch a drunk fall flat on his face.
There, but for God, go I.
On Pike Street, I watch a pimp wink at a cop.
Hey, God, what's the scam?
In the Market, I watch selling faces,
buying faces, searching faces.
At Fourth and Pine, I watch faces float
on a textile stream
to work, to play, to death.
Balloon faces, old Sandburg calls them:
nothing more than goofy coverings
for spit and wind.
I watch two deaf mutes argue.
They watch their hands.
I watch a blind man tap along the walk.
"Which way, please?" he asks,
and, "Thank you, sir," he says.
The blind man watches his tongue.
A snipe goes by with a permanent crick in his neck.
He watches the gutters for cigar butts
and nickels and dimes.
Someday, somebody might drop
a million dollars in the gutter.
Then the tramp will pay a doctor
to take the crick out of his neck.
A man at the news stand snatches a paper.
He opens it to the financial page
and hurries on his way.
You can tell he's a man who watches
his "P's" and "Q's."
He might even watch
his "D's" and "B's."
It's anybody's guess.
Just another balloon face.
A street preacher preaches salvation.
He sees only God and balloon faces
passing him by. Once he was a drunk
and saw only snakes and balloon faces
passing him by.
A girl in a ticket booth doesn't preach.
She has a marquee and billboards
and newspaper ads to do that.
The balloon faces come and say, "Two please."
So she sells them two
and they go in.
If a street preacher had a marquee
and billboards and newspaper ads,
the balloon faces would come
and say, "Two please."
So he would sell them two
and they would be saved.
That's good enough for balloon faces.
A street preacher goes back to his sack
at the mission.
"Save anybody tonight, Bill?" they ask him.
"No, but God knows I tried."
"God will reward you in heaven, Bill."
"The devil take him, if he don't!"
A girl from a ticket booth goes home.
"Mom, I've got a date with Ralph tomorrow night."
"You know, the boy who took me to the prom."
"You mean the feller that works
at the foundry?" asks Dad.
"Yeah, the guy with the '73 Torino with mag wheels
and dual pots," says Brother.
"Of course! The boy with the large
Adam's apple," says Mom.
"We're going to get married."
"He getting any over-time?" asks Dad.
"Do I get your room?" asks Brother.
"I'll start on the guest list tonight," says Mom.
Faces float on a textile stream.
Four billion faces on eight billion feet.
Black hair, white hair, curly and straight.
Big nose, little nose, convex and concave.
Thick lips, thin lips, laughing and sad.
Bright eyes, barren eyes, no eyes at all.
at the eternal seconds ever passing.
© by the Family of John Blair