The Old Pothead Poems by Sam Abrams

Sam Abrams has been a Fulbright Professor of American Literature at the University of Athens and currently is Professor of Language and Literature in the College of Liberal Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology. He dropped out of academia from 1968 to 1978, during which time he was a film writer, a communal organic farmer, a casual longshoreman, a union laborer, and a public relations flack: he considers that of these, the farming was the best learning experience.

These poems embody aspects of the consciousness of a sixty-something American professor-poet, a character related to me, Sam Abrams, born in Brooklyn in 1935, in much the same problematic way in which the “Walt Whitman” of Leaves of Grass is related to the Walter Whitman, born in Huntington, Long Island in 1819.


Louis Armstrong who cd know better?
meant it pot
sharp extreme deep focus
extreme wide angle all the
five orbs of sense 360

your world clear
fresh full of soul
no “it” anywhere
only your brothers
your sisters

telling ya
if ya really wanna know


I once got high with Miles
and Joe Early
hunched against the wind
in an alley off 2nd
off that fat hash roach

“You’re the only white
guy I ever knew
who knows how to
lace his moccasins on right.”
said the shaman

“You’re a real mean
fucker aincha?”
said the longshoreman

“That’s vulgarest
poem I ever heard.”
said the professor

The Old Pothead uses marijuana as a releaser, a guide, a prioritizer, an organizer. It’s his different drummer, a rhythm that can override the frantic cadences of the entertainment state. The fleeing crowd with the furies of their own self-betrayals on their heels would sweep us along in their devil’s dance. Vital for the kind of poet the Old Pothead is stepping aside, finding one’s own pace/space/rhythm, which is what a certain kind of poetry is “about.”


Damn! That’s it!
Some critter up in the hickory tree
‘s droppin little bits of
nutshell on me.

Been wonderin’
when I spose to be workin’

Pot, poetry and bicycling permit the OP to sneak out of the rush. They are places to pull off, to get out of the closed-access traffic lanes. Weather permitting, the Old Pothead, bicycles nine miles to work along the Genesee River, through a not-too-mutilated Olmsted park. He stops by the river, pours a coffee from his thermos and composes. He finds that without his usual two, three hits, he composes only lectures, memos, reports. With those few morning hits, he composes mostly poems. Many of them turn out to be keepers. Even when the weather forces him into his automobile, pot helps him take his ease, take the needed pause.


to drive to work
by the most
beautiful least trafficked way

I only have to make
one illegal turn

I park by the first beautiful spot
just the Subaru Franz Josef Hayden and me

what you see is
what you got

Pot, poetry, getting out into nature, return the Old Pothead, to some extent to radical innocence, to recover the astonishment of the world made new that Thoreau (lucky with yet unspoiled Walden to help) knew about.

In youth, before I lost any of my senses–I can remember that I was all alive–and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction…earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains…I can remember how I was astonished. Thoreau, Journal for 16 July 1851

These poems would demonstrate the possibility of that recovery of lost sense, with the aid of herb.


the purpose
of that cute little tailwag
robin does right after
perching on bare branch
to save & shake our world
as any fool old pothead
can plainly see

Like, I suspect, most long-term, careful users of, marijuana, The Old Pothead, while consciously distancing himself from the lonely crowd, is yet intimately engaged in trying to build community, he is politically active, committed; causes are a normal part of his life, grounding many of his poems in the lessons of the Vietnam protest, during which he is proud to have been jailed. In 1967, 1968, every week he visited Manhattan South police headquarters to have demonstration permits signed, every week, he carried a couple of joints in his pocket (in a waterproof match case) as a reminder of which side he was on, is still on. Not a pharmacological effect of marijuana, but powerful, that it reminds us that innocent activities are subject to criminal sanctions in our America while, often, criminal activities have the blessings of the law.


go view Hendrick’s and dead
Shreela’s dogwood blooms
always two weeks ahead
of ours

get two packs orange Zig-Zag papers
drop canned food off
at Catholic Worker
drop Windows keyboard and floppies
at Pastors for Peace
for Cuba Caravan

remember what Barbara Ehrenreich
said: “in the Sixties
the people with power
were acting irresponsibly
so the people without power
had to begin to take responsibility”

and what Robert McNamara confesses
speaking for the powerful
“we were wrong, terribly wrong”

“There are facts lodged in the world”
says Baraka,
like seeds

With pot, he finds he can focus on what he knew all along matters most. The drunken monkey inside, the skillful commercial persuaders are muted. The frantic screaming, the cries of the tortured, the bulldozing of gardens (Damn Giuliani!) recede somewhat. He is reminded that he feels more than savage indignation, that saeva indignatio itself is meaningless unless grounded in love.


this morning
while listening to Woody singin’
takes a worried man
ta sing a worried song
thinking about this conversation
with a learned nun
’bout Mr Jefferson
an’ Sally Hemmings

so I said to her people think
they couldn’t have been in love
don’t they know about
the million mad vagaries
human hearts are capable of

yes she said yes the strength of
the human heart it
breaks through all
boundaries all
social constructions

worried now but
I won’t be worried long

Not that savage indignation is inappropriate nowadays, especially in the context of the use of marijuana, so hedged in by obscenely punitive, obscenely wasteful prohibitory legislation. I am afraid that we cannot expect to make much progress in rationalizing those laws until the long-term, responsible marijuana-users who, like the Old Pothead, hold respectable positions in society get it together to out ourselves.


I once got high turned on by
a detective lieutenant
at the home of the dean of students

a test of the old heads’ myth
that narcs have the best shit

it’s true they do
they do doobie
doobie doo

Leave a Reply