Maximus to Gloucester

Gloucester Harbor

Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts, ca. 1940, Boston Public Library, Print Department


Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]

Charles Olson



I come back to the geography of it,

the land falling off to the left

where my father shot his scabby golf

and the rest of us played baseball

into the summer darkness until no flies

could be seen and we came home

to our various piazzas where the women



To the left the land fell to the city,

to the right, it fell to the sea


I was so young my first memory

is of a tent spread to feed lobsters

to Rexall conventioneers, and my father,

a man for kicks, came out of the tent roaring

with a bread-knife in his teeth to take care of

the druggist they’d told him had made a pass at

my mother, she laughing, so sure, as round

as her face, Hines pink and apple,

under one of those frame hats women then


This, is no bare incoming

of novel abstract form, this


is no welter or the forms

of those events, this,


Greeks, is the stopping

of the battle


It is the imposing

of all those antecedent predecessions, the precessions


of me, the generation of those facts

which are my words, it is coming


from all that I no longer am, yet am,

the slow westward motion of


more than I am


There is no strict personal order


for my inheritance.


No Greek will be able


to discriminate my body.


An American


is a complex of occasions,


themselves a geometry


of spatial nature.


I have this sense,


that I am one


with my skin


Plus this—plus this:


that forever the geography


which leans in


on me I compell


backwards I compell Gloucester


to yield, to






is this




Charles Olson, “Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27 [withheld]” from The Maximus Poems, The University of California Press, 1985. A remarkable film from 1966 showing Olson reading this poem at his home in Gloucester can be viewed here.