The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly

Denis Johnson

James Hampton, 1909, Elloree, SC—1964, Washington, DCCustodian, General Services Administration; Maker of The Throne

1I dreamed I had been dreaming,And sadness did descend.And when from the first dreamingI woke, I walked behindThe window crossed with smoke and rainIn Washington, DC,The neighbors strangling newspapersOr watching the TVDown on the rug in undershirtsLike bankrupt criminals.The street where RevelationMade James Hampton miserableLay wet beyond the glass,And on it moved streetcorner menIn a steam of crossed-out cluesAnd pompadours and voodoo andSweet Jesus made of ivory;But when I woke, the headlightsShone out on Elloree.Two endless roads, four endless fields,And where I woke, the veilsOf rain fell down around a sign:FRI & SAT JAM W/ THE MEANMONSTER MAN & II.Nobody in the Elloree,South Carolina, Stop-n-Go,Nobody in the Sunoco,Or in all of Elloree, his birthplace, knowsHis name. But right outsideRuns Hampton Street, called, probably,For the owners of his family.God, are you there, for I have beenLong on these highways and I've seenMiami, Treasure Coast, Space Coast,I have seen where the astronauts burned,I have looked where the Fathers placed the paleOrange churches in the sun,Have passed through Georgia in its greenEternity of leaves unturned,But nothing like Elloree. 2Sam and I drove up from Key West, Florida,Visited James Hampton's birthplace in South Carolina,And saw The ThroneAt The National Museum of American Art in Washington.It was in a big room. I couldn't take it all in,And I was a little frightened.I left and came back home to Massachusetts.I'm glad The Throne exists:My days are better for it, and I feelSomething that makes me know my life is realTo think he died unknown and without a friend,But this feeling isn't sorrow. I was his friendAs I looked at and was looked at by the rushing-together partsOf this vision of someone who was probably insaneGrowing brighter and brighter like a forest after a rain—And if you look at the leaves of a forest,At its dirt and its heights, the stuttering mysticReplication, the blithering symmetry,You'll go crazy, too. If you look at the cityAnd its spilled wineAnd broken glass, its spilled and broken people and hearts,You'll go crazy. If you standIn the world you'll go out of your mind.But it's all right,What happened to him. I can, nowThat he doesn't have to,Accept it.I don't believe that Christ, when he claimedThe last will be first, the lost life saved—When he implied that the deeply abysmal is deeply blessed—I just can't believe that Christ, when facedWith poor, poor people aspiring to become at bestThe wives and husbands of a lonely fear,Would have spoken redundantly.Surely he couldn't have referred to some other timeOr place, when in fact such a place and timeAre unnecessary. We have a time and a place here,Now, abundantly. 3He waits forever in front of diagramsOn a blackboard in one of his photographs,Labels that make no sense attachedTo the radiant, alien things he sketched,Which aren't objects, but plans.Of his last datedVision he stated:"This design is proof of the Virgin Mary descendingInto Heaven ... "The streetcorner men, the shaken earthlings—It's easy to imagine his handsWhen looking at their handsOf leather, loving on the necksOf jugs, sweetly touching the dice and bad checks,And to see in everything a makingJust like his, an unhingedDeity in an empty garageDying alone in some small consolation.Photograph me photograph me photoGraph me in my suit of loneliness,My tie which I have beenSaving for this occasion,My shoes of dust, my skin of pollen,Addressing the empty chair; behind meThe Throne of the Third HeavenOf the Nations Millennium General Assembly.i AM ALPHA AND OMEGA THE BEGiNNiNGAND THE END,The trash of government buildings,Faded red cloth,Jelly glasses and lightbulbs,Metal (cut from coffee cans),Upholstery tacks, small nailsAnd simple sewing pins,Lightbulbs, cardboard,Kraft paper, desk blotters,Gold and aluminum foils,Neighborhood bums the foilOn their wine bottles,The Revelation.And I command you not to fear.

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Photo:
Cindy Lee Johnson

Denis Johnson (1949–2017) is the author of eight novels, one novella, one book of short stories, three collections of poetry, two collections of plays, and one book of reportage. His novel Tree of Smoke won the 2007 National Book Award.

From the award-winning poet and novelist—a must-have collection of his four previous books of poetry plus a selection of new, unpublished work.

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