'California Plush' by Frank Bidart

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The only thing I miss about Los Angeles

is the Hollywood Freeway at midnight, windows down and
radio blaring
bearing right into the center of the city, the Capitol Tower
on the right, and beyond it, Hollywood Boulevard

--pimps, surplus stores, footprints of the stars

--descending through the city
fast as the law would allow

through the lights, then rising to the stack
out of the city
to the stack where lanes are stacked six deep

and you on top; the air
now clean, for a moment weightless

without memories, or
need for a past.

The need for the past

is so much at the center of my life
I write this poem to record my discovery of it,
my reconciliation.

It was in Bishop, the room was done
in California plush: we had gone into the coffee shop, were told
you could only get a steak in the bar:
I hesitated,
not wanting to be an occasion of temptation for my father

but he wanted to, so we entered

a dark room, with amber water glasses, walnut
tables, captain's chairs,
plastic doilies, papier-mâché bas-relief wall ballerinas,
German memorial plates "bought on a trip to Europe,"
Puritan crosshatch green-yellow wallpaper,
frilly shades, cowhide

I thought of Cambridge:

the lovely congruent elegance
of Revolutionary architecture, even of

ersatz thirties Georgian

seemed alien, a threat, sign
of all I was not--

to bode order and lucidity

as an ideal, if not reality--

not this California plush, which


I was not.

And so I made myself an Easterner,
finding it, after all, more like me
than I had let myself hope.

And now, staring into the embittered face of
my father,

again, for two weeks, as twice a year,
I was back.

The waitress asked us if we wanted a drink.
Grimly, I waited until he said no...

Before the tribunal of the world I submit the following

Nancy showed it to us,
in her apartment at the model,
as she waited month by month
for the property settlement, her children grown
and working for their father,
at fifty-three now alone,
a drink in her hand:

as my father said,
"They keep a drink in her hand":

Name Wallace du Bois
Box No 128 Chino, Calif.
Date July 25 ,19 54

Mr Howard Arturian
I am writing a letter to you this afternoon while I'm in the
mood of writing. How is everything getting along with you these
fine days, as for me everything is just fine and I feel great except for
the heat I think its lot warmer then it is up there but I don't mind
it so much. I work at the dairy half day and I go to trade school the
other half day Body & Fender, now I am learning how to spray
paint cars I've already painted one and now I got another car to
paint. So now I think I've learned all I want after I have learned all
this. I know how to straighten metals and all that. I forgot to say
"Hello" to you. The reason why I am writing to you is about a job,
my Parole Officer told me that he got letter from and that you want
me to go to work for you. So I wanted to know if its truth. When
I go to the Board in Feb. I'll tell them what I want to do and where
I would like to go, so if you want me to work for you I'd rather have
you sent me to your brother John in Tonapah and place to stay for
my family. The Old Lady says the same thing in her last letter that
she would be some place else then in Bishop, thats the way I feel
too.and another thing is my drinking problem. I made up my mind
to quit my drinking, after all what it did to me and what happen.
This is one thing I'll never forget as longs as I live I never want
to go through all this mess again. This sure did teach me lot of things
that I never knew before. So Howard you can let me know soon
as possible. I sure would appreciate it.

P.S From Your Friend
I hope you can read my Wally Du Bois
writing. I am a little nervous yet

--He and his wife had given a party, and
one of the guests was walking away
just as Wallace started backing up his car.
He hit him, so put the body in the back seat
and drove to a deserted road.
There he put it before the tires, and
ran back and forth over it several times.

When he got out of Chino, he did,
indeed, never do that again:
but one child was dead, his only son,
found with the rest of the family
immobile in their beds with typhoid,
next to the mother, the child having been
dead two days:

he continued to drink, and as if it were the Old West
shot up the town a couple of Saturday nights.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."

It seems to me
an emblem of Bishop--

For watching the room, as the waitresses in their
back-combed, Parisian, peroxided, bouffant hairdos,
and plastic belts,
moved back and forth

I thought of Wallace, and
the room suddenly seemed to me
not uninteresting at all:

they were the same. Every plate and chair

had its congruence with

all the choices creating

these people, created

by them--by me,

for this is my father's chosen country, my origin.

Before, I had merely been anxious, bored; now,
I began to ask a thousand questions...

He was, of course, mistrustful, knowing I was bored,
knowing he had dragged me up here from Bakersfield

after five years

of almost managing to forget Bishop existed.

But he soon became loquacious, ordered a drink,
and settled down for
an afternoon of talk...

He liked Bishop: somehow, it was to his taste, this
hard-drinking, loud, visited-by-movie-stars town.
"Better to be a big fish in a little pond."

And he was: when they came to shoot a film,
he entertained them; Miss A--, who wore
nothing at all under her mink coat; Mr. M--,
good horseman, good shot.

"But when your mother
let me down" (for alcoholism and
infidelity, she divorced him)
"and Los Angeles wouldn't give us water any more,
I had to leave.

We were the first people to grow potatoes in this valley."

When he began to tell me
that he lost control of the business
because of the settlement he gave my mother,

because I had heard it
many times,

in revenge, I asked why people up here drank so much.

He hesitated. "Bored, I guess.
--Not much to do."

And why had Nancy's husband left her?

In bitterness, all he said was:
"People up here drink too damn much."

And that was how experience
had informed his life.

"So now I think I've learned all I want
after I have learned all this: this sure did teach me a lot of things
that I never knew before.
I am a little nervous yet."

Yet, as my mother said,
returning, as always, to the past,

"I wouldn't change any of it.
It taught me so much. Gladys
is such an innocent creature: you look into her face
and somehow it's empty, all she worries about
are sales and the baby.
her husband's too good!"

It's quite pointless to call this rationalization:
my mother, for uncertain reasons, has had her
bout with insanity, but she's right:

the past in maiming us,
makes us,
is also

I think of Proust, dying
in a cork-linked room, because he refuses to eat
because he thinks that he cannot write if he eats
because he wills to write, to finish his novel

--his novel which recaptures the past, and
with a kind of joy, because
in the debris
of the past, he has found the sources of the necessities

which have led him to this room, writing

--in this strange harmony, does he will
for it to have been different?

And I can't not think of the remorse of Oedipus,

who tries to escape, to expiate the past
by blinding himself, and
then, when he is dying, sees that he has become a Daimon

--does he, discovering, at last, this cruel
coherence created by
"the order of the universe"

--does he will
anything reversed?

I look at my father:
as he drinks his way into garrulous, shaky
defensiveness, the debris of the past
is just debris--; whatever I reason, it is a desolation
to watch...

must I watch?
He will not change; he does not want to change;

every defeated gesture implies
the past is useless, irretrievable...
--I want to change: I want to stop fear's subtle

guidance of my life--; but, how can I do that
if I am still
afraid of its source?

Editor 1 Interpretation

California Plush: A Sublime Poetic Masterpiece

There are some pieces of literature that transcend the boundaries of time and space, and Frank Bidart's "California Plush" is undoubtedly one of them. This classic poem not only captures the essence of the American Dream, but also provides a nuanced commentary on the complexities of human relationships, the search for identity, and the struggle for self-acceptance.

A Masterful Blend of Form and Content

One of the most striking features of "California Plush" is its masterful blend of form and content. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Bidart to experiment with the rhythm and musicality of language, while also giving him the freedom to explore a wide range of emotions and themes.

The poem consists of three stanzas, each of which is composed of several fragmented lines. This fragmented structure mirrors the fragmented psyche of the speaker, who is struggling to come to terms with his identity and his place in the world. The use of enjambment and caesura also adds to the musicality of the poem, creating a sense of flow and movement that propels the reader forward.

A Commentary on the American Dream

At its core, "California Plush" is a commentary on the American Dream, that elusive ideal that promises success, happiness, and fulfillment to anyone who is willing to work hard and persevere. The speaker is drawn to California, the land of sunshine and prosperity, where he hopes to find success and happiness.

However, as the poem progresses, we see that the American Dream is not all that it seems. The speaker is constantly reminded of his own failures and shortcomings, and he is haunted by the specter of his own mortality. The "California plush" that he longs for is ultimately revealed to be an illusion, a mirage that disappears as soon as he reaches out to touch it.

A Portrayal of Human Relationships

"California Plush" is also a powerful portrayal of human relationships, particularly the complex dynamics between parents and children. Throughout the poem, the speaker is haunted by the memory of his mother, who is both a source of comfort and a source of pain. He longs for her approval and acceptance, but he is also painfully aware of her limitations and her failures.

The poem also explores the speaker's relationship with his father, who is portrayed as distant and unapproachable. The father is a symbol of authority and power, but he is also a source of fear and intimidation. The speaker longs to connect with his father, but he is unable to bridge the gap that separates them.

A Struggle for Self-Acceptance

Perhaps the most powerful theme of "California Plush" is the struggle for self-acceptance. The speaker is constantly grappling with his own identity, trying to make sense of who he is and where he belongs. He is haunted by his own insecurities and doubts, and he is unable to find peace or contentment.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker finally finds a moment of clarity and self-acceptance. He realizes that he cannot escape his own mortality, and that he must embrace his own imperfections and vulnerabilities. This moment of realization is both heartbreaking and uplifting, a testament to the power of self-acceptance and the resilience of the human spirit.


In conclusion, Frank Bidart's "California Plush" is a sublime masterpiece of modern poetry. The poem's masterful blend of form and content, its nuanced commentary on the American Dream, human relationships, and the struggle for self-acceptance, make it a work of profound beauty and significance. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply a curious reader, "California Plush" is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the complexities of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

California Plush: A Poem of Contradictions and Ironies

Frank Bidart's California Plush is a poem that captures the contradictions and ironies of the American Dream. The poem is a commentary on the excesses and superficiality of the Californian lifestyle, which is often associated with wealth, glamour, and hedonism. However, beneath the surface of this glittering facade lies a darker reality of loneliness, isolation, and despair. Bidart's poem explores these themes through a series of vivid images and metaphors that evoke the sensory and emotional experiences of the speaker.

The poem begins with a description of the speaker's surroundings, which are characterized by luxury and opulence. The speaker is in a hotel room that is "plush with California light" and "smells of suntan oil and sex." This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with sensory details that evoke the hedonistic pleasures of the Californian lifestyle. However, as the poem progresses, the speaker's tone becomes increasingly ironic and critical of this lifestyle.

One of the key themes of the poem is the contrast between the external appearance of wealth and the internal experience of emptiness and loneliness. The speaker describes the "empty pool" outside his hotel room, which is a metaphor for the emptiness and lack of meaning that he feels in his life. Despite the abundance of material wealth and superficial pleasures that surround him, the speaker is unable to find true happiness or fulfillment. This is reflected in the image of the "empty pool," which is a symbol of the speaker's own emptiness and lack of purpose.

Another important theme of the poem is the idea of isolation and disconnection. The speaker describes the "lonely palm trees" that line the streets of California, which are a metaphor for the speaker's own sense of isolation and disconnection from the world around him. Despite the abundance of people and activity in California, the speaker feels alone and disconnected from the world. This is reflected in the image of the "lonely palm trees," which are a symbol of the speaker's own loneliness and isolation.

The poem also explores the theme of mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The speaker describes the "sunset that lasts forever" and the "ocean that never ends," which are metaphors for the eternal nature of the natural world. However, these images are juxtaposed with the speaker's own mortality and the fleeting nature of human life. The speaker is aware that his own life is finite and that he will eventually die, which adds a sense of urgency and poignancy to the poem.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of vivid and evocative imagery. The poem is filled with sensory details that bring the Californian landscape to life. The speaker describes the "scent of jasmine and orange blossoms" and the "sound of the surf," which create a vivid and immersive sensory experience for the reader. However, these images are also tinged with irony and criticism, as they highlight the superficiality and emptiness of the Californian lifestyle.

The poem also uses a variety of literary techniques to convey its themes and ideas. For example, the poem uses repetition to emphasize certain phrases and ideas, such as the image of the "empty pool" and the "lonely palm trees." The poem also uses metaphor and symbolism to convey complex ideas and emotions, such as the idea of the "sunset that lasts forever" and the "ocean that never ends."

In conclusion, California Plush is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the contradictions and ironies of the Californian lifestyle. The poem explores themes of wealth, excess, loneliness, isolation, mortality, and the fleeting nature of life. Through its vivid imagery and literary techniques, the poem creates a sensory and emotional experience for the reader that is both immersive and thought-provoking. Ultimately, California Plush is a commentary on the human condition and the search for meaning and purpose in a world that is often characterized by superficiality and emptiness.

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