The Party; Hexagon


This night is going to last forever.
—“Heartache Tonight,” The Eagles


IM Stuart Peterfreund, 1945–2017
Dennis Saleh, 1942–2020

Another party at the rambling rental house
on the cliff edge above Shaw Cove beach
in Laguna that October evening, half the people present
up dancing to the Doors’ “Light My Fire”
—seven minutes, more than twice the length
of a standard hit single of those days, organ and drum
and Jim Morrison’s insistent vocals fueling us
as we sway side to side and shift our weight
foot to foot, sweating, as if going someplace.
Several party guests cluster
on the back porch to pass a joint,
still seriously illegal in California. Beyond them,
the night Pacific strikes the beach below
with its own thundering percussion, repeated
and repeated, and the sea also flows west
past rocks on which sea lions
croak and bellow, and farther
to where the rim of the world turns into stars.
Two couples have taken the curving path
from the bottom of the porch stairs down
through ice plant and bougainvillea to the sand
—mostly dark, although checkered by dim patches of light
cast from the windows of other houses along Cliff Drive
or from the windows of the party, and from
the door to the porch opening and closing. One couple
has slipped off their shoes, walking the edge of the
resounding surf. The other
leans together in blackness
to kiss, hands passing down each other’s bodies.

And in the room where so many of us
are pressed close jouncing up and down to
hear what there is no time for—wallowing
in the mire—other people perch on old couches
and chairs, talking together in twos or threes
and drinking, or gather to talk and drink and
reach for snacks by a table crowded with
full, half-full and empty wine bottles,
beer bottles and bowls that contain or contained
potato chips or corn chips alongside
depleted dishes of red and green sauces
for dipping, and an empty one that held
guacamole, gobs of which have dripped
across the tablecloth amid chip shards
and small puddles of the other salsas, beer, wine.
Cigarette smoke spirals up from the talkers’ fingers
and ashtrays balanced on armrests or on the floor
and pours out of lips to saturate the air
with a slowly swirling fog
that hovers above everything.

At the fireplace
that is never used, its mantel jammed with half-empty
glasses and bottles temporarily left on it
by people who have risen to dance, Dennis
and some others stand talking to the poet Robert Bly,
the ostensible guest of honor, here because
he has given a reading that afternoon
at Irvine, where many of those in this living room,
kitchen, porch, or down at the beach
in the darkness outside are students.
Later in the conversation with Dennis,
Robert will abruptly hoist one foot
and kick him in the stomach
apparently for no reason—a moment
Dennis will remember all his life.

And at last the police are at the front door,
summoned by a neighbor because of the noise,
two large cops asking Peter,
who had signed the rental agreement, to end the party.
Our peace can’t be disturbed, one of the officers states.
But when we receive a complaint we act on it.
The police on the front stoop wear as their shoulder patch
an artist’s palette, since the town likes to think of itself as
an art colony, and indeed, Pacific Coast Highway
two blocks inland, which serves as the main north-south street,
is lined with commercial galleries featuring
paintings of the surf by moonlight
—like this night, but without anybody on the sand
and with a bigger moon. And now Dennis,
as at every party once the police
arrive at the door, moves through the dancers,
the drinkers, the talkers, to confront the uniforms and
guns, to object, he says, to their attempt to stop
people harmlessly enjoying themselves, and to argue
it isn’t even 1 a.m. Then Stuart, as usual,
pushes his way to the discussion happening at the door
and in his drunken manner tries to
justify to the cops Dennis’ attitude, believing he can
explain things better to authority, which of course
annoys Dennis, and soon those two
are disputing with each other, tonight exasperating Peter,
whose sole aim is to get the officers to leave
before they are provoked enough to demand to enter
to check ID or something, and maybe smell the pot
and somebody ends up arrested
with word getting back to the landlord
and having the lease or whatever Peter had signed
cancelled, and all staying here evicted.
The Stones, or Janis, are on the stereo now,
as the police stand firm like time, like
death—You have to shut it down—as the dancing inside
continues, the dancers forgetting for a moment a low mark
on a quiz, or their draft status, or a paper due Monday,
or how to end the war in Asia, or some of their poems
rejected by a magazine, or the situation
in Watts or of Chavez’s farmworkers,
or that they wish they had asked Erin rather than Joan
to dance.

That dancing, that music,
the party, even after the cops leave
with their warning Don’t make us come back
continues, the dancing has lasted for
years, decades, across a new century, through the fear of
nuclear obliteration, the great fires, fierce rain,
Main Beach and Forest Avenue flooded,
war after war, love after love, that dancing
goes on, the dancing, the party, the night,
the dancing

Snowflakes descend purposefully
or wistfully
but, surrounded by their tiny peers,
each is confident they together will soon
hide the meadows, driveways, roofs,
fences, the stripped gardens.

A speck of dust or pollen
lofted to the top of the sky
encountered a water drop
that in the celestial cold
adhered and froze, forming an ice crystal
which, now weightier than

the air it floated on,
began to waft downwards,
adding water particles as it traveled,
six spikes or arms creating
a filigree all its own as it passed through
differing temperatures and amounts of

dampness. Its delicate white
intricacy, though, contains an inner space
also unique. One offers a forest of snowy evergreens
where, as afternoon light dims,
a man wearing a homespun hooded garment
and bent under a sack thrown over a shoulder

plods along a footpath
winding uphill between firs and pines.
With each step, his breath appears like smoke
until he and his burden are lost from view,
and a chill wind sways the thin twigs of bushes
emerging from drifts beside the track.

In that flake is preserved
an era in which the body endures and welcomes
the simple opposites: icy cold against face skin
and eventually a fire’s warmth, sodden feet and, at last,
these dried once more, while the eye
registers an omnipresent starkness

—white fields, white roads, white trees—
which, like a minor key, can please the mind.
Here is the past returned to Earth
by the water that changes form
but does not die. In this vision, each frozen tuft
among the millions that lower to the ground

is a memento mori that affirms:
No life is useless
or pointless, since each in its turn
advances the future. Yet all are swiftly forgotten
in the beauty of the falling