The Plain of Smokes

The Plain of Smokes is a long poem (nearly 1800 lines) utilizing and about, though by no means exclusively about, the city of Los Angeles. The poem has four distinctive voices, one of which is that of the archetypal Angeleno and urban foot-soldier, the private detective. Ken Price chose this section, entitled Philip Marlowe, where are you?’’ and composed thirty original drawings to illustrate it. Approximately the last third of this section is extracted here. We are following the detective, through his own narration, on one investigative day, from waking in a cheap residential hotel in Hollywood to day’s end. The case, of course, is murder: a young man has bled to death in a bathtub, under circumstances that recall the infamous Fatty Arbuckle case of the thirties. It is now mid-afternoon. . .

how’s that for realism
so it’s back into the car
which I’ll be buried in

though it’ll need
paint and tires first

and onto the hollywood inbound
to the pasadena

where the graffiti on the tunnel wall
say save los trees

which we should
because they are all dying
from cajon to cahuenga

and later
deeper into it
I find myself between the interchange
and chavez ravine
the department of water and power parking lot

and when I find finally a phone
    there’s a punk in it
wearing a black jacket
with USS Indianapolis
embroidered on it

   I loved a woman once
whose father died on that tub
torpedoed in the china sea
losing all hands to sharks

   the pacific she told me
is a monotonous nightmare
   that we can not escape from

  I have the sense
that I have dreamt all this before
and the end is horrible

but nothing happens
wanna buy he says some good shit
and I say sonny
I know some real detectives downtown
so shove off

get screwed

he says

which is what is happening
I should quit this racket
go to the islands
and watch beautiful women

anything but this wandering
for thirty years in a town
that makes no sense

and ma bell’s phones
don’t work any better
than when she invented them

or the kid’s broken it
the bitch takes my money
and gives nothing back
not even the recording