She wore a red dress to your funeral,standing straight and straight-faced
alongside of your black clad family.
She didn't seem to notice the sharp stares,
or feel the stinging sneers,
and when the Priest glared at her she glared back.
It seemed a long time that we all stood there,
sneaking glimpses of red,
stunned into silence by such bold grieving.
Finally it was over and she left,
weaving through the tombstones,
spilling blood among the polished marble.
When I was seventeen, the world was a psychedelic oyster...everything flung color; bright, boisterous shades of flourescent orange and scream green, purple haze (Ha Ha) and sunshine yellow.
Nothing was dull, and nothing was still.
It all twirled and swirled and sprung in twisting masses from our every object; even our T-shirts seemed to move. I like to think that the person who invented all that ass-kicker acid was just looking for some way to quiet it all down and it back-fired...we used to drop window-pane at Andy's house because he had blacklights in his garage; we would pour Tide washing powder on the floor and trip over its phosphorous contents twinkling through our little piles of detergent...it would be a couple of years before I would learn a few other uses for phosphorous.
Yeah, those were simple times; I should have paid more attention to them, I should have ate all that color so I could've spit it up later when it would have really meant something.
Lava lamps were the shit; you were nobody unless you had one in your room...and the cool moms had them in their dens. Joplin and Hendrix ruled the world, the Dead guarded the gates.
The Stones had just hit the states and everyone hitched to all the best concerts...all the girls wanted to blow all the bands, all the guys wanted to be roadies. Nobody ever did, of course...that was for the kids from California who were lucky enough to get backstage passes; the closest our little southern contingent ever got was sixth-row center at a very memorable Joe Cocker gig...we knew all the words to 'Bathroom Window' and never missed a beat.
We thought we were so cool. Just as good as those west coast kids. Plus, our pot was better, we were certain of that; we grew it ourselves...no infra-copters back in the day. Fifteen bucks bought a five-finger bag of prime red-bud; ten more got you a sole of hash to wrap it with. I miss that stuff. Nothing beats a good hash milkshake...and later on, nothing would beat a good dose of smack; pot would become just foreplay, just something to keep the jungle bugs at bay while we sat and waited for the movie to start...and that was the thing; if the horse was hot enough, you could get away with pretending it was all a Fellini flick...for a few moments, anyway.
And sometimes that was enough to get you to the next day.
It's a good thing we didn't know what was coming, I think most of us wouldn't have believed it if we had. The summer of sixty-six was winding down, the acid was turning into to mescaline, and Janis still had four years to live...longer than a lot of my friends.
Nam was just a blurb on the TV news, the body counts during dinner were still a year or more away, and body bags were for the bad endings on Dr. Kildair. Some of us had brothers or cousins or uncles and dads pulling their time already, but nobody we knew up close and personal had gotten killed or even shot...not then. No one was protesting in earnest, not in our little corner of the planet, and all our teachers were talking about how it wasn't even a war, for christ' sake. Nobody seemed too fuckin' concerned...not then.
Only our mothers looked worried; but they always did, so we never really noticed. And when we did, it was too late...High School was over, no money for college; all of us country boys had gotten our invitations by the time the spring of sixty-eight rolled around. Only Andy made it out; his dad had an aunt in Winnipeg and the next time I saw Andy he had three kids and a suit...he acted uncomfortable when he shook my hand; but it was OK, it was his folks that made him go...
I guess. It WAS your folks, right, Andy?
Been thinking about Andy again, he's starting to come and go like a cliched ghost; and I seem to be sittin' up with the dead.
I haven't seen him since his dad died twelve years back, and we all went home to Catawba county to say goodbye...all of us that were left, anyway. We made a pitiful bunch, actually; hand-me-down suits and thrift store ties. All of us but Andy, who had done well in Winnipeg and wore a three-piece like an honest-to-God businessman.
He had spit in his hand and passed it through his hair while we stood around the casket talking about how good his dad looked. Some things never change. That's funny, isn't it...how everyone always seems to think folks look so damned good when they're dead. I'll bet the dead ones don't think so...I'm willing to put a few bucks on the fact that they would probably rather look like shit and be able to tell you about it.
I know for sure that I want to look terrible when I get to lay on my satin; and I hope all the people that come to stare at my corpse have the good grace to say so. I don't want to die handsome; it seems like such a waste. And I don't want to be laid out all dressed up...I've left word that I'll haunt anyone that tries to pin those fuckin' medals on me.
I really don't believe a whole lot in God or Heaven or everafters; but whatever is waiting for me is just gonna have to take me like I want to come...wearing Levi's and Hane's cotten. And no socks, please; it's a thing with me. Had a lot of jumpers here lately; maybe that's why I've been thinking so much about Andy. You know, him jumping the draft and all. Word association and such...I've heard it can work like that.
Anyway, four jumpers just this month; two off the Tar River bridge down at the rocks and two more off the I-95 overpass. The last two were a real fuckin' mess...shit everywhere. It took us the better part of a morning to get all the bits into our little red bio-bags...every scrap or the state boys get pissed. Can't leave anything for the public to see, when wer'e done, the Fire-house pumpers come in and hose away the spots.
And these two had took their dive together, holding hands like goddamned love birds, said the bewildered witness who had called 911 to report the incredible event on his cell phone. Can you hear him now? Hardy fuckin' har har.
By the time we got to the scene, he (The witness) was talking to the cops with his attitude showing...he had done his duty and now they were going to make him late for his tee time; he didn't PUSH them, for christ sake. It would have been more interesting if he had...nothing new about suicides.
All I ask is that they get it right the first time so I don't have to work so hard...it's way harder to try and fix them than it is to just scrape them up. One thing is certain...no one will be standing around these two caskets speculating on how good the deceased look; these two are gonna fit in a shoebox.
And I say bury them in the same one, size seven ought to cover it. After all, it seems they wanted it that way...just ask the pissed-off golfer who saw it all. I can hear him now.
I love my job.
come on back from never-never land.
Peter's long gone, fell in with the wrong crowd
on his way to find Wendy- he's history.
All the little lost boys got together and went uptown,
maybe you can still find one or two along the strip,
if you want too.
And after all that, Hook just blew the place;
why hang around looking for trouble at a dead party?
He might even have found Wendy,;
the two of them shacked-up in some other fairy tale.
Come on back from never-never land.
My Aunt Lucy had big blonde hair that wafted around her head like the sticky silk of a drunk spider.
My Aunt Lucy wore her skirts too short, violating the public with fat pink thighs thicker than her waist.
My Aunt Lucy drew her eyebrows on, and painted her lips with vaseline for a seductively greasy shine.
My Aunt Lucy wore six inch spike heels that made the fat pink thighs look like cold pork popsicles.
My Aunt Lucy wasn't allowed at our house, but she always gave us new case quarters whenever she saw us on the street.
My Aunt Lucy died when I was twelve; somebody saw the cold pork popsicles sticking out of a bin somewhere.
My Aunt Lucy got her name in the paper, the sisters chipped in for a longer skirt and buried her in the back end of the yard.
She would die at Twenty-Seven, learning to fly from a ledge.
But we didn't know that when we were eight, we chased endless days down to dark;
summer dripped time thick as honey.
Hours spent at nothing, tilting at windmills in our best mindless fashion.
Summers shifted when we were thirteen, honey grew thin,time ran faster;
we left our youth behind and lost each other on the way to our lives.
She would die at Twenty-Seven; but we didn't know that when we were eight.
of white pine and cedar and elm that guard my seclusion.
I pretend I'm dreaming-then I am-waltzing with Jane
barefoot and ballgowned through a wood: music howls
somewhere beyond the gray, somewhere in the black.
So I oversleep and wonder when I wake why my feet are ice.
I fly to work down back roads that turn suddenly
into streets miles from my driveway graveled and
tucked between menacing rows of black-hulled pecans:
they bear on the third year and I keep their fallen ancestors
packed naked in blue tupperware tubs stacked in my freezer.
The cockpit of my jimmy is strewn with dead coffee cups.
Jack-in-the-boxes lay discarded and dying on the floorboards
-similar slaughters of necessity-ketchup clotted to their sides.
Last month's cable bill flaps under the visor like a battleflag.
Tobacco whips by on the left and on the right so fast
each leaf on every stalk stands out in surreal base-relief.
I taste the sharp and bitter tang of suckering plants:
it reminds me of my father's pall malls and politics and
the smell of money seeded from blood.
Barn swallows rise-in lazy tourbillions-from the fields
their beaks and bellies full of yellow and green hornworms.
I wing past Buck's BBQ Pit (You Can't Beat Our Meat)-past
Lucy's Do-Lounge where the girls serve more than shots
-past Big Jim's Quick Mart: the stoner kid who pumps gas
raises a hand in reflex. I don't wave back in sympathetic apathy.
Most mornings I stop to kill coffee cups but today I'm late.
Tenant houses rush by on either side, their concrete blocks
painted with Kudzu and mildew: I think of abattoirs and
oubliettes and other inevitable exits. Children and dogs and
cheap molded toys from the plastic plant over in Elroy dot
the tiny dirt yards-little boys and little girls stand in stagnant
ditches chunking rocks at death while their mamas are inside
fucking the mailman or watching General Hospital on TV.
I see slide show flashes of their faces and I hope I don't
have to come back out this way: scrape them up, heads
cracked open, futures frying on asphalt like so many eggs.
I pass the city limit sign-some of the holes are mine-ringed
in rust and canted to one side. Courthouse looms right,
county buildings lurch left and blocks ahead day meets night
where tracks split the city: segregation in iron ties old as time.
I pull into my lot-number six, section twelve-filled with cars
and trucks and bikes but I am the only flying jimmy.
Everything ticks: engine, watch, pulse-alpha papa charlie-
the people that mill outside my windshield tick with tension.
I want to turn the key, turn around, turn into my driveway
where squirrels sit stuffing my sweet meats in their jaws:
instead I clinch mine-name rank serial number-open the door
and step out.
Listen: animals sprung their cages snarl in angry unavoce
behind walls of brick and steel and glass that guard nothing.
who was anti-anything that wasn’t
his own concept, or concepted to his own
intimate reality and you would think that a Jew
would know a thing or two about tolerance;
about the consequences for the lack of it
or at least realize the danger of narrow roads
yet he rides a bicycle around
his university town, because the chance
tuning of a classical station once led to Domingo
singing to angels, eating bread where the road
got narrower still; the pleasant shock turned car
into flaming tree along the landscape littered
highway to Barnes and Noble,
where he goes to find his roots, goes to cry
over CD’s sang in the mother tongue; the notes
dripping like the snapped strings of guitars-
sometimes as he leaves, he feels he can walk straight
through the brick walls like gamma rays but
he pedals instead, home for dinner;
a fish sup of mackerel displayed on his counter
like the art of poetry lays upon the page and he hones
his knife on the sharpening wheel; slits the white belly,
removes bright innards, washes the gutted carcass
beneath tap water as cold as the Aegean sea-
as it boils within the gray water of domesticity
he knows that later he will write of it, for writing
is a noble task and he is nothing if not noble
and after, he sleeps; and as he sleeps
he dreams of apples; falling apples, forbidden apples,
the apples of paradise that an old woman bids him
not to eat and then his mind shifts and he is standing
among the broken pieces of Palestine and Greek sculpture
that lie in silent discord at his feet, the feet of the elite
athlete who in his youth slapped decathlon ass
while shit smeared his hands and he thanks God,
thanks Jehovah for the privilege and then he wakes-
just another forgotten old man
with dried spittle in his eyes and on his lips,
the cupboard stitches in his scalp tingle, mingle
with the fluttering remnants of fucking the Venus De Milo
while dream-Nazis cheered him on, their dream-faces
set in sybaritic leers so he draws a bath to cleanse
the night sweats; dives beneath its warm surface
like a submarine -hard, true- and emerges flaccid,
limp as the pink mackerel dinner and somewhere
in the back of his mind he wonders who will grieve;
who will sing the liturgical dirges for him.
Erich smokes Marlboros.
he wears a cherry jacket and cherry socks,
a ghost shirt and ghost sweater,
and carries the box of Marlboros.
Erich, lying on my bed, spills blood and snow
on my raspberry and coconut spread,
So I paint the picture.
And the critics say "whatsa matter kid,
you don't got no other crayon
I am not an artist because
the strange boy has a fat neck.
He wears the same shirt everyday on the bus.
From the collar grows a neck
wider than his head.
So I split the neck and head on paper,
and the experts say "there ain't no one
looks like that why
dont'cha draw flowers?"
If Erich smoked Salems
the portrait would have been balanced.
The heavy red and white
would have been blown apart
by a mentholated breath of color.
The critics would have said
"This carnival of rainbows combines the
double enjoyment of a striking portrait
and today's pop art."
If the boy, instead of a fat neck,
had been given big, round eyes,
the portrait would be seen as a charming face.
The experts would have said
"This visage expresses the whimsical fantasy
of a child found in an adult's face.
His warm eyes thrill us
with a 'je ne sais quoi' sensation."
I am not an artist
because the critics and the experts
do not understand that truth is beauty
and beauty is truth-
Acknowledgement to J. Keats.
where land draws up,
forced into bank
by a river that has its way;
water troubles and turns,
a slow diminuendo like
the fading of old scars.
Movement in the shelf of sky
is only a loss of light,
a bone moon reveals its face
along a scarf of cloud.
Heat bears the night electric,
chalks tree against slate
in skeletal bas-relief.
I watch the set of day
cast valley into flame,
the silence of sheathed wings
leaves a stir of italic rain.
Continuous thought uninterrupted
by the vicious sleep of reason,
breeding Goya's monsters in ground fertile
with preconceived knowledge.
The grease of time speeds the spin.
Disoriented, weak against the chain,
links of assimilated concepts layer like brick.
The whirl of intellect births ideas.
Intrinsic contemplations on a mental screen,
infallible doctrines speculate
on suspicions whispered to living rock.
This mind trips on unearthed reality.
Forgotten voices speak for themselves,
startled hands bring pen to paper,
validation stains the page with creations' mistakes.
And I hear the scream as I write the words.
and curiously wondered at,
the circumstances of my current state;
how it is I came to be
such a hardened, jaded she,
laughing at the irreversibility of fate.
Quick of wit, a learned mind,
taught to mingle with my kind,
if I only knew just what that meant;
I only know I won't conform
to what is the considered norm,
so does this mean my tree is slightly bent?
I never asked to run the race,
they can't make me stay in place,
the way I live my life is unaccepted;
and so I ask, with heavy heart,
if my free will and I should part,
would all I have accomplished be respected?
they rise in ghastly ballet; grotesque arabesques
against bone-colored walls, murmurs without voices.
Low laughter ripples beneath flesh, crackles along a dead line.
Strange shades waltz beyond the corners of perception,
twirling to a spectral band; the sweet scent of Mignonette
an undefinable presence, it's decay lingers on the air.
Revenants in party dress, their passage kisses the skin;
they whisper close, seductive invitations to the dance.
Baby fat blonde jumped the nowhere bus,
bootlace flapping, gritty chapstick in her pocket
pasteurized milk in her daddy's scotch thermos.
Fate est. 1977, she walked away on rooted feet,
now she shakes a disillusioned ass at a titty palace
called the Maraschino Cherry; screaming red walls
full of glaring Warhol and polite bouncers in suits.
The clientele speaks of Paris, of summers spent
at Archipelago de Colon in knowing voices.
It brags like a regular Studio 54, but it's just another
downtown hard bar, the regular fakes licking Kismet
from squares of cellophane, faces pulled in passion.
The stage pops and snaps, the crackle of charged air
makes her think of the spark chamber she saw once
at a county science fair, when she was still Viola,
baby fat blonde the crowds called Sapphire,
because it was spelled out behind her on a backdrop,
sputtering tubes of violent blue spitting static at her back.
She sways on rooted feet, runs a dry tongue over drier lips
and thinks of chapstick, of warm milk in a plaid thermos.
(another shiftless nigger)
a perfect Rockwell
by the rusted Grape Nehi sign.
He hand-rolls cigarettes,
ponders the color of a God.
He hears cicadas buzz
in harmony with memories
of when it wasn’t wise
to look daylight white men in the eyes,
because they might come to call at night.
Now old, those men pass
on their way to buy Bea’s shine;
they call him by name as if they’re friends.
He wonders what they choose to forget.
On Saturdays, little white boys
drop their battered bikes,
head into Bea’s for colored popsicles.
But he needs to see them colorless,
and can’t help wonder
what they’ve already learned.
He has heard of the change bought
with the blood of those more bold,
now he’s too old, too tired, too black to care.
So he nods to all, while he appears
to focus on a patch of oil that darkens the asphalt,
and stains the scent of Gardenias in the air.
if I'm on the side and it's dim through the glass
or I look in the lighted one on the visor,
over my school-marm glasses
right after I put on honey lip balm.
It's easy to pretend it's not me,
the distortion creates beauty where there is none,
not like walking down short halls with flamingo legs
above everyone else in the sand;
this is an Irish face, flat and squash,
mirrors add dimension like a photograph from a autopsy
but in the end, they usually find the body in the trunk.
filled with the shuffling dead.
Someone's nightmare broods
on the rim of my waking sleep;
it wears a man's clothes, a child's smile,
and it leans, a malevolent slant,
in the recessed doorways of periphery.
It moves by me down night streets,
past buildings like tombstones.
Gutterplates and cornerstones
bear names of the irrelevant doomed;
anathema writ by those who came before.
Now it's ahead, tripping the dark fantastic
along the edge of my watering lid,
a lurid writhe in rhythm to the hiss of my mind.
It beckons, silent coos of seduction,
drawing near the cold press of it's regard.
The city is haunted.
Winds keen through barren streets,
pushes past buildings like watchful crypts,
scatters faces on the skittering strains of a howl.
I see it beyond,
someone's nightmare dancing with my own;
one mad ghost entwined with another.
with God teaching me lies.
We wore painted masks
the bless-us formula and linear proofs
holding the house together
like a dime-store novel spinning
its tale in a drug store
that doesn’t exist anymore.
No matter how many times you move
the same shadows fall down the stairs;
you watch as the newest star
to come out of the consortium
dances above their heads while
we spread our tale across the gods’ table
before asking them to show us
where it goes.
like I'll do to keep my mind from dwelling
in a petrified wood that it shouldn't
I came upon a place devoted to Chartreuse
which turned out to be
a French liqueur made by monks
and aged with 130 kinds of herbs and flowers
it all sounds so simple
and I just like the word
of course I know it; what it is,
have seen and heard and even used it
but never really thought about until today
when I saw it in a slender, nondescript bottle
such a cool green beckoning...
yes, that's it, beckoning;
calling me to Chartreuse mountains
where holy men gather herbs and flowers
until they count 130
and I read later
that some songwriter somewhere
Tom Waits, I think it was;
had said that Chartreuse was a whiskey so good
they named a color after it.
I once had
a shot of color like that.
Does it lie dead, dismembered;
the masticated pieces spat at the feet
of your stained glass Gods?
Does it choke your private sanctuary
with the stench of decayed hope?
How's your faith these days
Does it hang heavy, cold against
the collar; a bloodstone Rosary
strung on veins of attrition?
Are confessions sold in confidence
to cast the Judas cross in tarnished silver?
How's your faith these days
Does it have the sweet persuasion
it once had, or has the hypnotic drone
of the doggerel lost its melodic allure?
Or is it all finally a figment
of the contrite collective; blind masses
drawn to fat candles lit by weary wanderers
to illuminate the path to salvation?
How's your faith these days
Baby rolls rock-me hips
through the undertow,
twelve moves like twenty down oceanside,
mama's little lure trolls for fish
driving money cars waxed to oily glisters;
the metal skins reflect
bad boys watching from tattoo fronts
with hard eyes, hooked fingers scratching
thoughts bulged at their crotches;
they spit laughter at sharks
looming up behind tinted glass and
baby strokes this school-
cherry red bait in a feeding pool,
looks like daddy's got an angler;
she snaps her ass at beasts
cruising by like sleek nightmares,
the painted scales of bad boys
rippling on the edge of thier wake.
II. We're Not In Kansas Anymore
The glare of neons
splatter on wet concrete,
drops of irridescent rain;
they spread oily rainbows
beneath spiked heels.
Glittering ladies gather
along the yellow safety curb;
soaked and shaking lollipop gals
looking for the great
and powerful Oz
sparkling like the Emerald city.
one long ago summer under a young professor
whose ancestors lived and died in Crete;
he had carried in his suit pocket a Justinian coin
that he claimed was real though it bore no date.
She bends brass and copper wire
into facsimiles of the Hippodrome, of Hagia Sophia;
she sculpts the Theodosian Walls from toothpicks
and hides her face behind their structure.
On days when clouds bank the sun,
she fashions a toga from a lilac sheet
and dances circles around the courtyard;
the empress Theodora in scuffed sneakers
a wreath of yellow pansies for a crown.
Neighborhood boys sometimes toss tomatoes
plucked from their mother's gardens-
those that do not burst into ripe flowers
across lilac and brick she gathers up;
leaves them in a woven basket outside the gate
for the mailman or the milkman to enjoy.
She kneels every night on her polished floor,
carefully glues colored glass and stone into complex patterns
that grow from the baseboards in widening arcs.
She has a cat named Constantinople
who watches the process with calm indifference.
When she sleeps she dreams of San Vitale,
of mosaics and obelisks and reflected light.
fishnets and meted out blowjobs to guys in Soldat suits
on a screen ripped in the wrong places
while secret gentlemen sat scattered beneath the grainy show-
their names tucked behind faded faces,
and Lili had top bill above the Angelica,
where goodtime gals with cherry lips
circled outside under streetlamps-
lost things waiting for exodus.
Alice Found Mitchum
in a Noir house downtown; with maroon walls
and sprung seats and a projectionist named Mick
who spilled Captain Walker from his window on Wednesday nights,
pinned him to a hillside with Warnicki and Ay-Rab;
the weight of dead men hooding his face,
their shadows bone-deep behind his brow.
Late peach pies dress sills, whistle-thin
voices gather in empty rooms and whisper
beneath doors, around corners, behind the cool
of cracked windows. The dead have come
to reminisce; they tell stories of our futures,
pat our heads while we sleep sepia-hued.
Outside, broad-crested elms click near-nude limbs.
In the long hall, dark descends on sock feet,
beyond the past where everything is perfect,
where time does not fall from trembled nightstands
to shatter-stop against a perfect hardwood floor;
where a cat does not roll, or purr recognition because
everything is as it should be, nothing has changed,
and hushed sounds behind doors ajar are always there.
can turn your world on a cliched dime.
I haven't written in months; not one word.
I thought I had stopped forever; some great,
dark thing had reached out and thumbed a switch-
one I couldn't find the care to turn back on.
Found that mosquitoe again. Let it right in
like I never let it out and shit, Joe...
it was good the first day or two, as good as it gets
and then it wasn't. Just like that. But the strength
to swat was as gone as those elusive words and it
goes like it goes and it's all mine, after all.
Then the simple thing happened.
A pimped-out duece and a quarter flung itself
out of a clear blue intersection and before I had time
to think "Damn, that's an ugly fuckin' car"
it had buried it's big grin of a grill in my lap
and somebody told me later that it never hit the brakes.
the weight of day and push of night;
a quilt of skin sewn sinew to bone.
Scars trace my surface,
map the past in keloid and curve;
I rub but cannot scatter the years.
A girl once drew her palm
down my laddered back, not asking
what raised the rungs beneath her touch;
lucky, she said, to know where the ledge stops-
the falling off is to know where it begins.
my father sat in a cracked wingback
reading John O'Hara under Bourboned breath,
straining the words through his teeth,
stowing their hard stone centers
like ball-shot in his reddened cheeks
while my mother listened
to Ramsey Lewis sing about the sounds
of the season as she downed nog
after nog minus the egg and cream,
heavy on the Wild Turkey and shelled pecans
for winter pies into a bowl
decorated with festive silver bells.
Every now and then
she flicked a nut-meat at father,
bounced it off his head just like Gordie Howe
bounced pucks off the net and she'd sing
"Goddamn ye mirthless gemmamin"
and laugh and flick and flick and laugh
until he smiled at her over his page,
rolling the stones
in his cheek with his tongue,
so careful not to let them fly
and my brother, who was 9 that year,
without my 2 extra terms of smart,
looked up from his Etch-A-Sketch
long enough to ask what was so funny about
getting pelted with pecans and being
forced to listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio
when we should be tapping our feet
to the holiday stylings
of Dave Seville and his Chipmunks
but my father just kept his smile and said
"it’s for ourselves to know, son,
it’s for ourselves to know-"
10 Christmases and an American Lit course later,
I realized why he was so good at tonguing stones.
when we were not drunk,
or propping stools against
the same bar or even packing
our blunts in the same state
and speaking of states; in which
do their respective minds reside?
Pot-bellied pretender, moonstruck magpie;
throwing tilts in elliptical orbits,
barking edicts in stilted rants,
they long to eat the world and can’t-
only lettershapers, after all;
pointless pitons planted in argot,
they fall backwards off their own shoulders,
spilling vowels and consonants from
stuffed shirts and padded push-ups;
words without sentences hunt the air
between them at a loss for thought and
conversation brings us to this wasted place,
everything else being extinct
when we were not drunk,
propped against different bars,
stoned in other time-zones.
I remember what they said.
She called herself Zsa Zsa most nights,
a big blonde with Vargas tits
and a bad complexion that began at the bone.
She had a one room walk-up off Sunset strip,
the only window looked out at a billboard
for Evian water. She said it was as close to
the Hollywood sign as she would ever get.
Her hair was dyed the color of champagne clouds,
and she wore a tight black tee that read
“You must have been a beautiful baby”
in warped block letters across her chest.
She would snort giggles and say all the swingers
were just dads in plaid suits, looking for lost
years under strange petticoats, warming
cold regret with Mastercard and Jack.
She knew things that were cool, like Saki
was born in Burma, if you could make a saxophone
cry you would never be alone, and you can
roll a decent joint in Tampax sleeves.
And on rainy nights when business was bad,
she would invite me home like company,
give me whiskey and head while Gillespie
played his trumpet in perfect sync.
stained fingers twisting our hair
in tangled knots, eyes closed,
Hendrix hanging somewhere above
low-slung clouds circling our skulls.
Your body pressed against the wall
nearer the window than mine,
you pull your lips and fire erupts-
your chest struggles, deflates,
surrenders God from your lungs in drifts
that scatter the clouds to ribbon.
I’ve been cold before,
I know my gooseflesh well.
Trading breaths with you
beneath a cracked window,
its panes jitter like loose teeth
everytime Jimmy walks his watchtower.
I will sleep in shifts and tonight
I’ll sleep without touching you-
already miles between us, a pushing distance
that marks itself in hardwood beneath
a braided rug that smells of ruin.
I watch you, asleep on your back,
knees bent up and ankles in; pigeon-toed.
Your breath volcanoes up, visible in the chill,
then disappears as if it never was at all.
I find myself at my kitchen table, elbows set on an oilcloth that I must have purchased; I struggle to catch the memory of when. My oilcloth is singular in its ugliness, blocks of blue and white connected by tiny sunflowers that resemble flies cocooned in perfect symmetry within a square web. Burn marks track the path of the spider. I light a cigarette with my Zippo, its pewter body as battered as my own. The thumb wheel is loose; three strikes to fire and I wonder if the snipers are watching alongside my snickering demons. The itch between my shoulders has grown numb, a disabled target. I smell the bite of ozone, and beneath that, copper; always the copper, heavy and sweet.
The floor under my feet peels and fades; its pattern lost to countless steps. Once blue or rose or green, it now lays gray and dead across boards gone soft with rot. There’s a hole to the left of my right foot, neither small or large and shaped like a grin, it yawns a welcome; the demons at my back nudge against my ear. I inch my toes through the smile, feel the air of the cellar below, cold, damp. I wonder if any corpses before me have found this hole, slid though it to rest at last nestled in rat shit and dirt. I try to force my foot past the limits of the hole; the edges give without complaint. I take a long drag and wait for the dark below to yank me in; the air clutches my ovation.
Dusk drawing from the blinds finds me on my knees with butter knife and bleeding fingers; splinters pile up on either side like dead soldiers. I think of foxholes and fire pits and the blackened maws of buried screams that have found breath beneath the give of my floorboards. The smile has widened into a laugh; its cool trill dries my efforts to salt. Behind me, whispers of applause pull past my shoulders and fall between my hands; I can hear it echo somewhere in the black.
Demons sleep by daylight. I wake with cheek pressed against a table leg, fingers sore and curled under my chin. For a moment, I can’t remember; my eyes, sideways at floor level, pick out shards of wood, a settled haze of smoke, spatters of tacky blood. I smell dirt and damp and the sour odor of spoil; again I think of foxholes, I wonder where the sniper is perched. A ringing phone startles me to my feet, the steady thump thump of the Evacs melt into morning traffic that hums from the streets below my window. Shadows of sun shaft through my cracked blinds; the hole reveals itself…only a hole. Jagged at its edges, bigger, empty. I dump the ashtray over its lip; scatter my night cremations and watch as ash sifts into nothing.
mornings at Bobby’s Blue Tip;
just another strip bar,
just another street…
current pit in a series of stops
and she’s got a loft,
top of the stairs,
over the stage
where she shakes tit
nights on the ten to four;
shimmies for the jimmies
in business suits,
they buy rounds in applause,
light cigarettes and check
their reflections on the backs of Zippos
always the same faces,
always the same song…
and in the morning
she’ll rack balls,
while the old men match each other
drink for shot;
they move lips that never speak,
their silence reminds her of home.
is born full-blown in a dim study
redolent of oiled leather and smoke;
where Spanish sonatas play on an old victrola
and Contino goes down straight from the bottle.
Dali fades into the walls,
faint behind glass clouded like tintypes.
Larrea and Lorca sit on chairs, lie well-thumbed
and opened across bed and sheet;
lost voices rise from their pages to drift
and scuttle in the comfortable dark.
Like the shoemaker, the savage
has a wife; angry on the other side of a door,
loud knocks from another world where supper cools
and ice melts in tall glasses like clocks
against a Catalan landscape.
In a dim study, a man digs his grave
where crickets sing in shadows without light
to give them birth and all the songs are sad.
So I find Dorn and I read; and in that consumption I began to think that the critical eye is a marvelous thing, a holy thing that bares the bones of the low and the high; that nothing is without its skeletal core. I read that Dorn said “I puke on greatness”…and in this I agree; for isn’t greatness just an enlargement of some tiny core, a miniscule beginning common to all? Nothing is so great that it can’t be drug down, nothing so small that it can’t catch some bottom rung and climb. I have felt that urge to vomit, void hot chunks of disillusionment and despair squarely on the shoulders of those who flaunt their largesse for the masses to stroke….that’s really the rub of it; most want to stroke the robe, kiss the ring, lick the cliched boots…and for what? A crumb of recognition? A crust of lauded pie thick with bullshit and back pats?
So I found this, and as I read it I realized that I am not alone, not the only someone to feel the tightening of an unseen rope:
By Ed Dorn
From now on,
I’m under House Arrest–
I only get out for the job:
Then, Death–the ultimate
House Arrest, the ultimate duree–
But it was worth it.
From now on,
I’m under house arrest–
I only get out for the job;
Then Death–the ultimate
And there it is, that thing that I do…I only get out for the job. Were it not for a forced need of income, I would sit forever, not in the comfort, but the consolation of my house…arrested there, suspended in the web of ago like some ancient, arthritic spider feeding on the raveling cocoons of dead things; all the while spinning my own tightly-wound shroud with acidic strands of myself. I am left to wonder, is this all I am meant to do? Wait to die, become a dead thing in someone’s web, a face bobbing to the surface of anothers' memory pool? So I write this:
In the tick-down of days,
in barely an open and close of years,
I choose not to die, but to cheat death;
slow the wind of anatomy
that is no more than body,
take back from the gods what was never theirs.
To remain here forever,
a single voice in the silence of time,
a shadow above the soil of the dead.
I will not die denied,
next to an unknown madness,
but wait the birth of each mute hour,
and know the past was never better
than in small seconds.
I turn it over and over in my mind, all this that has come from the reading of a poet at the behast of a masked mind…spinning and spinning those bitter threads about the great and vomitous non-purpose; and finally comes a cocoon of reason, a small insect of comprehension that my stagnant, narc-calmed id wraps around as if the bug is a bit of manna cast down from pissed and dubious gods:
I think, perhaps memory is not purpose, but the remembering is…the log of ends to stories without the necessary voice, without the hand needed to record the what-could-have-beens attached to every bobbing face; each pulsed rhythm that ceased in gutters, in alleys, in back rooms…without a voice to mourn their end, without an eye to remember.
So with purpose, I write this:
This mind turns on its axis.
Continuous thought uninterrupted
by the vicious sleep of reason,
breeding Goya’s monsters in ground
fertile with preconceived knowledge.
The grease of time speeds the spin.
disoriented, weak against the chain.
links held true by solid welds fused from
assimilated concepts, layered like brick.
The wild whirl of intellect births ideas.
Intrinsic contemplations on a mental screen,
infallible doctrines flung into speculation
on suspicions whispered to living rock.
This mind trips on unearthed reality.
Forgotten voices speak for themselves,
startled hands bring pen to paper, validation
stains the page with creation’s mistakes.
And I hear the scream as I write the words.
My days come and go like gray shifts of inconsequence, spills of time that run unnoticed into more of the same. Days spent as a mannequin of the self I once was; the shell is there but the turtle moved out long before Saigon fell…now the face that looks into mine from the peeled-back silver of passing mirrors is unfamiliar; and it is only recently that I find myself wondering where I went, what happened to that fearless girl who pretended not to care and did…when did the pretense become the fact?
I could blame it all on Nam, I suppose, as so many do…pile the great non-purpose on the dead heads of all those soldier-boys that poured their lives across the toes of my boots, spilled their thoughts into my waiting hands and lost any memory of those ladies who were lovely once. But to lay it on that lap would be a lie, because it was just a place, a span of miles I ran through when I was young, chased by tigers let loose from someone else’ nightmare. Nam didn’t mold me; I molded it…shaped it into a bullet that I would never chamber, never fire. That gun doesn’t belong to me, the tigers that creep down it’s barrel were never mine. Instead, I pulled from it a profession; skills I learned then I use now, the waiting hands are now replicants that act as if they give a damn when all they really give is time.
So I sit and I wonder, why do it? What purpose do I serve spending hour after hour trying to fix people who care even less than I? Most of them addicts, criminals, would-be suicides, drunks…very few runs turn out to be actual accidents or of a natural cause. And then I remember…who am I to judge, an addict myself? Dependent on Heroin as I ran those long ago miles; my own dragon set to fend off tigers. Then later, morphine; another dragon for another generation of nightmares…only this time, the guns are mine; their barrels sleek, disposable stainless steel. I seek the same calm they all do, it’s just that my search is private, not left lying in the street or in some seedy by-the-hour room…the difference is really only one of logistics. It doesn’t make me better, just better-off…I think my actual purpose all along has been to bury the details, throw everyone’s dirt on my truth.
I try to remember why it was once worthwhile…why the effort mattered; why it might matter still. I recall faces, write down names, sort it out on paper as if the words are purpose enough. I think of an old man, dead ten years or more; but it’s his wife that I still see, pacing the floors of my memory…countless shots of mescal and morphine won’t wash away her face; so I write this:
They lived in a perpetual past,
three dim and heat-heavy rooms
encased them in the crumbling husk
of a brownstone on a forgotten side
of the city.
We ran suicide shifts down dead streets,
and some midnights found our pulsing
red and white outside their stoop,
spinning strobes slapping brick with
He was the Phantom of the Opera,
she was his Christine. She would rush us in,
blue eyes wide in a thin plane.
Her scent reminded me of tabbouleh,
He was ancient, breath like smegma,
face like a leather mask. Cirrhosis ate
his body, drank his mind; accompanied by
strains of Wagner in unrelenting drones.
While we worked, she hovered-
frail wasp patting his brow, humming.
I saw her hug herself, fingers
dripping panic down her back
like slow sweat.
He was a wicked Raoul, hateful in his extremis.
He struck at her, called her a brainless zygote,
rotten whore. She gave him the radius
of her smile and crooned “Papa, papa,”
in dulcet tones.
We lifted him to the stretcher-
she cried when we strapped the belts
and clutched our sleeves in nervous desperation.
She made quiet, pleading noises
in a strange tongue.
They had been someone once;
he a producer of this, she an actress in that.
She had worn diaphanous gowns that clung
to her mons veneris, danced in hot abandon
for his pleasure.
We left her standing in the doorway on that
last night of our aquaintance, calling papa
in a pitiful litany that was at once beautiful
Once out, put down on my blank sheets like the scattered rows in an untended cemetery, I find the ghosts remain. Face upon face, they bob the surface of my mind and break the black water pooled there with an uncomfortable ease. I think of dragons, of tigers chasing miles into decades; their purpose leaps from my pen, ink like blood across the page.
through the undertow, twelve
moves like twenty down
Oceanside, mama's little
lure trolls for fish driving
money cars waxed to oily
glisters; the metal skins reflect
bad boys watching from
tattoo fronts with hard eyes,
hooked fingers scratching
thoughts bulged at their crotches,
they spit laughter at sharks looming up
behind tinted glass and
baby strokes this school,
cherry red bait in a feeding pool,
looks like daddy's got an angler;
she snaps her ass at beasts
cruising by like sleek nightmares,
the painted scales of bad boys
rippling on the edge of their wake.
threads lace the holes like stitches.
The sun recedes behind the wrong window,
and scars mar sinks in nicotined inches.
The rooms want to collapse
on the phantom inspirations of ladies
whose magnolia talc still hangs
in the brocade drapes and peeling silk.
I think about the coloreds here before us-
how one winter the foreman came,
whipped that buck Sampson until blood muddied clay
and how he was a tribal prince.
I can see this war, every war-
deconstruction and reconstruction blend
like the burning, the building of continents
and I watch people drift in boats, starve in holds,
continue from cells without bars, without keys-
their ashes silt rivers, their bones lay paths
for those who stumble after.
The earth tilts its head
and I am watching through the walls
as people roam the yard, on into the streets,
the cities, the world-
some are planting rows, blisters on their palms,
or stirring pots with peeled sticks or drinking
shine from brown jugs while they lean back to back
under elm, under oak, under pine-
I watch mothers who beat their children
and fathers who turn away; the brims of their hats
broken above their brows.
I hear lovers whispering and old men rocking
in cane-backed chairs that creak regret,
old women shelling peas, stripping corn,
pouring tomorrows into jars gone as cloudy as their eyes.
Young girls in pleated skirts cha cha to 45′s,
and a cowboy rolls his own by an embered circle.
Boys in sailor suits wave from distant bows
while others kiss strangers beneath confetti storms-
victories caught on paper, on film, in concrete and stone.
If I had me some sugar,
I could make us a fair cake,
says the woman in the empty kitchen.
The faded sheers stir as if by breath.
Beyond the rooms, through the walls
and frame and rotting insulation-
past the yard and streets and cities
and fields and valleys and seas
are days that come and go without delineation;
shifts of gray to black marked only
by the ones who walk away.
Life's hands mold humanity
but the strokes are no longer gentle-
Shoulder shruggers blind eye
viral advocates of like disguise,
a little dead in their concern.
Abhorrent creatures play
within skins of normalcy;
they share the secrets of madness.
Deus ex flying machinas
caught the corner of a collective eye,
ripped it down in flaps of disbelief.
Countless selves form single a sensation,
bat frantic wings against a broken globe.
Sacrifice shapes continuance.
Blood-stained breasts succor the unsurrendered.
Strength spills down spines bent, but unbowed-
They stand, and raise flags towards the storm.
You gave me bunny slippers
for Easter, and a copy of Watership Down;
it earned you the benefit of a doubt.
I wonder how long before you are gone,
after you have vanished.
This morning the refrigerator
dumped cold on my bare feet;
I thought about the way
your back arched around my toes.
Estelle came today
with a shoebox of photographs
you had taken on our trip to Vermont;
you scribbled notes on the back
of every one.
When she was gone,
I read the words on each photo
over and over.
I walked to the mailbox
four times ahead of the mailman.
Mrs. Campos next door
thinks I’m going insane.
Maybe she’s right.
I sat and watched the wallpaper peel
from the corner where the glue
never took; after a while
it looked like a time-lapse film
of rotting fruit.
I decided to get the TV fixed.
Estelle came by again-
this time with a girl
who looked a lot like you used to,
before those I-want lines
furrowed your forehead.
You named them all after me.
Estelle left and she stayed;
we drank Dewar's with no ice
until you disappeared.
Afterwards, she slept naked
on the blue couch downstairs.
She was gone this morning,
left a note under your smiley magnet.
I didn’t read it.
It wasn’t from you.
I went to Delmar’s for breakfast,
but negatives of you live there,
the leatherette booths mocked me.
I slipped out before my order was up;
I can’t go back.
I thought I saw your head
above a clutch of backpacks on sixth street;
but it turned out to be
just another blurred ghost.
Mrs. Campos watches me
walk up the drive;
I grin and wave like a lunatic-
as if I never saw the falling,
as if I don’t know it will be years
before I feel the crash.
over dove country-
staccato shots rip me from sleep
as they rip breath from flight;
rude alarms without faces.
Light brings the neighbors’ girl
to roost in a fall field-
arms full of the plastic lives
of several dolls with neoprene skin.
Her tinny voice trills across
my coffee, the forgotten words
of some long ago song-
“On the wings of a snow white dove-”
It shudders behind my eyes,
the goose-fleshed imprints linger all day.
End of day finds her
at the edge of my yard;
scuffed hands cupped around a dead bird.
She offers it like truth-
quick, free of fanfare.
“Bullshit,” she says, nodding her head
to some secret agreement.
“The wings are just grey, after all.”
call a spade a spade-
just don't name it nigger
or cracker or honky or tom no matter
how colored the ignorance and
shake the sugar from your coat,
call that cunt a cunt-
but not if it shops uptown or
sticks itself to a Sunday pew
or gives the best blow-jobs around
don't pull the punch,
call a prick a prick-
just not if it signs your paycheck or
is a good provider or preaches
community unity at the VFW and
suck that decorum,
call the victim a victim-
but only if it fought back, left marks,
dressed appropriately, lived to tell about it
on the channel 2 news and not
if it rides poles to pay rent or
trades pussy for crack on Southside,
works the zombie shift at Porno-Emporium
or lives in a row house with dingy windows
so spill it on the chalk line,
strip it to the bone and spit-
lick it till it bleeds
the same scarlet as mine.
like phlegm to dying lungs,
sticky skins thread sullen streets
sweating Red Dog Rye;
old men, young sons piss out their purpose
in vespine knots, mouths full of shit and speculations:
their spittle leaves pocks in the dirt.
Venerable interceders for God
passing bottles and judgments
behind taprooms festooned with pellitory-
Sunday tongues hum around residual teeth,
hackles rise above the somebody’s fault line and
the saints lay down their good books;
gather up tindered principles, traditions like light-wood:
They bank them at the feet of crosses
set to burn in their neighbor’s yards.
seems to light, too free-
and it wasn’t but
it was good
in a self-searching way
that I wasn’t prepared for
or aware of until
skin was already peeling
away in painful strips,
bloodless yet weeping-
I felt them fall,
drifting in dry and dusty piles
beneath my anonymous desk
somewhere in river town
and I wanted to
gather them up-
stick them back
to my naked self, shivering
weak and wanting.
idle words bared me
like a lover couldn’t
like a confessor might
like a surgeon skilled at the craft-
and voices screamed
from the opened wounds
voices with names that can’t
be counted, faces that won’t be gone.
Their tongues scrape my edges,
dig furrows through the bone yards
that carry my weight-
and I stumble,
I tire, I wonder
will it always be the same.
from the Ivory girls,
scrubs the scalloped parts
until they’ve lost their seashell hue-
At night she sheds,
sits cross-legged in blue shag
and draws scarlet bracelets
from her wrists, Exacto circlets
around her throat in crimson beads.
I was propped against the rear doors of a rig
parked in Bay 5, close to where the docs smoke
with cigarettes tucked behind their palms,
furtive anarchists flicking ash at the don’t-do-that sign
while people shift back and forth around them
and I was thinking about this tweaker kid
we brought in on a dead run; skull a cracked vault,
his secrets betrayed on the floor beneath my boots
I was thinking about how he wouldn’t
stop breathing; how the noise of anatomy
dogged collapsed lines in fibrillating waves
I was thinking about a girl in a dirty blue skirt
sitting on a curb with his blood on her knees,
how her face pulled away in the rear-view like a scream
I was thinking about how an intern
with two silver loops in his ear hummed ‘Blue on Blue’
under his breath as we gave our report to a nurse
I thought about these things
I watched the guards watch me
I didn’t clean any secrets from the rig
I did sit down on the step plate
I picked at the wick of my Zippo
I whistled the intern’s song
somewhere behind me
a girl with bloody knees sits on a curb
pulling threads from the hem of a cheap skirt.
everyday, a real zaftig mama
running register at the Slavic Grill;
slack tits and hair and broad, flat teeth
stick perpetually to cracked lips
like the biting aroma of onions and cabbages
sticks forever to her skin and
it floods the bus in sudden clarity,
passengers think of home, of sweet sausage
for supper and tired wives with tight asses,
angry husbands with hard hands and
nobody knows her name is Zinnia;
sour old maid but somebody’s flower
and no one will guess
she takes the six-forty everyday
on a three-stop ride to see her daddy-man,
fat black butcher who strokes her heavy head,
kisses dry lips slick as they slap needy meat
together until their pores spit vinegar,
until the starving empty tastes onions, cabbages.
picked to perfection atop a broad skull,
colored insolence-orange to compliment
her red-bone tone and the white boys love it-
or so they say when they say something at all
to a picayune yeller waiting table for tips
she saves for three months strong to buy
suede kitten heels and a rayon fluted skirt-
fine as anything the white gals sport
down at the legionnaire's hall on Saturday nights,
kicking ankles and hems to black-balled beats;
but she can't go where she can't go so
she dances to echos in the outside lot while
old men pass bottles on benches nailed to brick-
they blink like Lazarus as she bumps and grinds,
their laughter cracks across the gravel like
cartridges jacked into waiting breeches,
as cold as a cocking trigger.
faces flooded contusion blue,
we quiver before the corpse-lights;
slaver over designer drones whose digital tongues
flap static louder than our intellects-
they spew sang-froid emesis
across the collective floor,
stroke our heads, pat our asses by invitation;
they sing us lies and lullabies but
we know the ice age cometh:
it taps a salvo against the convex eye,
puts an antedate ear to our bowels and
listens to the rumblings within.
on the 10th floor ledge
of a building that faces mine.
From my window I look down;
watch as she contemplates something
or nothing- feet angled towards our street,
ankles crossed above heads that never look up.
Her name could be Jenny,
Alice or Ruth; but I name her Jane
under breath that catches each positional shift,
anonymous doe caught between ricochets
of afternoon glare; its whisper-licks blend
gray shadows into ghosts against the stone.
I wonder if she reads
confessional poets- lonely masturbator
waking in the blue, looking for Bedlam
with a howl picking locks in her throat or does
she want to eat the world like Plath ate her daddy;
in sucking gulps of oblivion and I wonder
if she knows I'm here, does she know I see
everyday the bow of head,
the shape of hands folded in a spare lap;
will she sense my regret should the hands snap
and plummet, grabbing for rungs on rising air
while currents turn the pages backward-
does she know they will leave no riddle exposed;
only hair and bone and the ache at the root of my tongue-
this tepid press into breathless flesh.
Damned hot days.
Blacktop blisters where dirt meets road,
dogs with slats in their sides pant,
watch the August air waver and dance;
an idle promenade with shadow and sun.
This season of strain
pains its way across our surface,
lays a path in rivel and rut.
Regret brings us to a vacant place;
faint thrusts erase words, crumble thought
to dust that cannot lift itself to scatter.
Promises culled from sweat
flitter by sill and frame, their sway
traces the fretwork of your face.
Catbirds simmer in cedars that stroke
dry fingers against the pane;
familiar ghosts bend toward the husk of sound.
A storm stirs, lightning robbed of voice
sheets through the close haze of day.
Yellow Jackets hum in paper nests,
their anger cools beneath juniper shade.
Somewhere in the thinning distance,
dogs slip away without goodbye.
We shed our skin, twine sticky and shorn
on sheets with roses faded down to pink;
count beats in our strained necks,
watch the rise of breath, catch its fall
in the hungry mouths of opened palms.
In this gloaming, I will see your smile.
you are naked, pallid
on pale sheet, powerless
and sleep-dead and something's
come to grieve;
sprung from a hitch
beneath your breath,
it winds, insistent shroud-
your thighs, parts a passage
to other worlds and resistance
sticks in your throat
stops the shriek
and then it speaks, says
what you want to hear in your
own voice, slides familiar arms
about your waist
and they were never so tight,
never so wrong and you
close your eyes-
feel a need
a greedy suckle at your neck
and you think of high school,
of backseats and blow jobs
and now it thrusts,
presses fear into flame and
you smell cigarettes and popcorn
and your daddy's after shave-
a slick tongue
wraps with yours and pulls,
sucks out secrets like a lover
never did and at once
you taste your
first cock and your first Jack
and every flavor you had forgotten
fills your mouth until regret
spills down your chin
and still it pushes,
strokes that shatter your spine,
nail flesh to fantasy and
now you know,
this is how you want it,
this is how it should have been;
from the dead spot like revelation-
it splits your seared throat
and you scream
the great primal howl
fuck me, fuck me like it never
meant anything and so it does;
snaking under your skin,
piercing your bones
and it licks the inside of your mind,
feeds on what lies hidden
eats questions you could never ask
and spits the answers
behind your eyes; they gather
in the corners, muddy puddles of doubt
and disregard and when you wake
you'll rub them
and wonder why you can't remember
what it is you can't forget.
in his fist, mousse in his hair, and a cameraman
wearing an ANARCHY RULES tee-shirt whirring
Shocking! Graphic! footage into eager TV's
across the viewing area so I said-make that spit-
what the fuck do you think I'm doing,
Mr. Rather-be-an-anchor? Just a cannibal
trying to eat her words, standing here with
RBC's clotted on my mags, Pollack-style splashes
drying on white cotton issue and won't they be
the bitch-kitty to get out if I ever get to take
it off so just what the fuck do you guess
happened to joe blow, hardening on the concrete
with his gray matter where it don't matter,
giving you such good profile while all these
gawkers and shoppers and kids -Oh My!-
talk in not-so-hushed tones about it being
broad daylight and what the fuck do you
suppose we'll do once the cops finish taking notes,
snapping pics that'll end up in a dead file because
nobody ever sees nothing; once we scrape joe
into a black bag and the firehouse boys hose away
what's left over so everyone can forget until the
next one and tell me, what the fuck will you care
after the film stops?
Steady, they clip the straps that hold
the sweetgum straight against its stake.
Now, it bows only to drop seed to fertile earth.
An ovenbird cocks her tail, watches me
from her canopy perch, close and unimpressed.
I spread my fingers, let thin rawhides fly;
morning will find them bunting for her bed.
Tiny scars cross the backs of my hands,
their fretwork remembers years long buried.
I trace them in the dusk of memory.
I open my palms; gods that never answered
drift through the cracks, ashes on a scant breeze.
Behind me, the ovenbird trundles her nest.
Quiet. The dead are tolling their bells.
Send a prayer up for the hunted,
prey for the predator; all mass to the enemy,
amen. Will you offer your boys to the clergy?
Light a candle, confessions feed flame.
Wafers, wine, penitential suits;
dinner for two behind stained glass curtains.
Hail Mary, full of grace
let us blow this goddamned
place your money in a tin plate.
Increase the tithe until sin ceases, Sunday mothers iron
perfect creases, all god's chilluns' wear Baptist blue.
Songs sung blue, everybody knows
one hallelujah chorus
sing it for us while we burn crosses, burn Jews,
burn the bush; soldiers of Golgotha in faceless diorama.
Dead deities shop for attention, sell lightning rods
door to door; frightened neighbors at the blinds
sneak peeks for celestial signs and wonder why
martyrs make mistakes of sacrifice over and over.
Jesus built new and improved voids
to measure his levels of devotion,
I called him and we got high
in ways our bodies couldn’t atone.
A portent pressed so close
to the backs of our eyes
all we could see spilled out,
trickled down to our toes buried
in saw-grass swaying like prayer-fans
stapled to popsicle sticks.
I made him black coffee before noon,
Jamaican Blue Mountain, 8.95 a pound
at the strip mall on South Avenue.
His upper lip tried not to crimp,
his hands tried not to shake and I smiled
because my days are cherry days,
mostly. He called me apathetic,
said I drank through a war and slept
through a revolution once.
I know it must be true, I know there was one
because when I wake up after drinking
it feels the same as when I don’t.
He said that he wakes up every morning
and throbs and sometimes, so do I;
but I know they are not the same aches,
so when he said that I set my face
and pretended to look empathetic
when all I really want is winter-
the time back spent in an unfinished attic
with Rachel, our lips ringed with her mother’s
kosher salt and drinking margaritas;
our grace unlaced, a white flag shaped
like a pillowcase defining our surrender,
our silhouettes blushed behind the pulled shade.
who came most summer days
to help my old mam
shell peas or shuck corn
or snap beans for canning.
Every third Tuesday
they washed sheets in big tubs,
then hung them to dry
on twine strung between canted poles;
the flat smacks of their hands
carried staccato across the fields.
She had a niece named Sookie
that came along those days;
we would play until our bones hurt
in the fields where old pa's
colored men walked endless rows of tobacco,
popping bright yellow flowers from each plant
with fingers always sticky,
always sore and when the field boss
looked away, they would turn up water
from jute jugs suspended
on straps at their waists.
Sookie and me plucked
fat tobacco worms from their leaves,
saved them in jars with punctured lids;
old pa gave us a nickle for each full jar
because there was nothing
like a greenhorn worm
to attract big cats
cruising the river bottom
while the sun beat its surface
until you saw the heat waver and roll.
We spent our nickles
on RC colas and Moonpies, side by side
and knee to knee eating them
in the shade of a high row.
The woman never came
when the days turned short.
Summer would end, school start
and Sookie sat in a different classroom
at the end of the hall.
When lunch came,
she stood against a back wall
with the colored kids and the white trash
and they all wore bright yellow tags
pinned to their shirts
that said FREE LUNCH in big letters;
they always ate last
because that's the way things were
when seasons changed
worm money and Moonpies
into days sealed like summer jars.
It's 1964, John F. Kennedy has been dead
a year and two weeks come Monday
and here I am, laid up in some bar
so dive I'm shooting mescal in dixie cups
listening to Clifford Brown blow
his brilliant trumpet through speakers
that crack and bleed and now there's a girl
on the stool next to mine; she wears
a flesh-colored sweater like it's skin,
tells me she's from downstate somewhere without
me asking and now she's brushing her tits
against my arm, talking about jazz and Benny Waters
and don't I just love a good sax when it rains;
then we're outside, steam lifting from the concrete
because it has rained, been raining all day and next
thing I know, she's peeling off the skin-toned
sweater in a ten dollar room while I untie my shoes,
wonder if she's going to taste like the Camels
she's been burning all night and she does;
but it's alright, it's ok, because it might not be
good sax but it's a decent lay for a Thursday night
and somewhere between the push and the grind and
the sweat-wet valleys I am transformed; jolted out
of time, yanked up and carried away just like that
magic bullet yanked JFK from his black continental,
his ideas strewn across a pink chenille suit-
no transition, no time to bide, no reflections
in a half-shut eye; just the taste of smoke then
I am here.
It's 1966, John F. Kennedy has been dead
forever, fucked over by a Texan and here I am;
sacked out in some bamboo bar, drinking ruou from
a tin cup while women shred dog meat in a back room.
that roams the back alleys of town.
Some days find him brave along main street,
dodging traffic on three scarred pads
and a counter-weight shaped like a thigh.
He has no name that I ever knew,
but I call him untitled; a shambling draft
filled with page after page of stories
no one will ever hear, or get to read
within the bindings of a worn and dusty book.
He doesn't eat well but he eats-
a scrap here and a morsel there, sometimes
I see the butcher's boy lay bones unwrapped
outside the rear door; strings of meat and sinew
reflect an act of grace beneath the sheen
of summer blowflies.
I often wonder if he dreams of Rin Tin Tin,
if he envies the great shepherd and his celluloid flock;
or if he knows that had fate only made him aesthetic
and born him in a different circumstance, that it might
have been him poised stalwart on a Hollywood cliff?
I know that one day I'll come into town,
find him bloated beside some curb; sides fat at last.
And when the road crews shovel him up, he'll spill
volumes across their boots; an untitled tide of words
riding gutter-waves to an nameless sea.
my mother's house empty now in fact instead of theory.
Thumbed to the inside of a pantry door, a calender dated 1961
holds watch. Here is the transience of x'ed out days;
I've come to name the ghosts in this sudden unhinging of air.
It's '61 again, and Eddie loses his footing on a low stool
while crepe myrtles bob purple heads outside the window,
leaving a silence, an absence of light beneath a door.
Mother listens to Debussy, La Danse De Puck, and does not cry;
I watch the weight draw lazy circles in the dusk of day.
It will be spring in a while; I never wanted to go to Paris.
This is the summer Joan found the husk and bark
of Dylan, threatened to move to Greenwich Village, get a job
pouring coffee at Gerde's Folk City. She named a took-up sooner
Woody, got caught behind Conner's Feed 'n Seed with a boy
who looked a lot like Bob. She disappeared that summer,
"away with an aunt", they said; returned before fall set in,
the arc of EST still visible in the fine hair at her temples.
Afterwards, she was always barefoot, humming behind a frozen smile.
Autumn has come, wind scares up old leaves that tick down in spirals.
"Take a picture of this" says my father; now he hides in the slump
of a stranger photographed beside a pearl-gray sedan, his face
too far away to see the set of his mouth; tight-lipped until
he drank it loose. I smell rain in the swelling dearth of sky.
I am not like him, all flesh and hollow bone. He speaks in loud tones
of the nigger allowed on his crosstown bus, reason enough, he says,
for the Buick. The camera doesn't record the stink of his breath.
It is winter. I have carried the cold in from the outside.
The movers are done, their trucks packed and idling at the curb;
exhaust curls from their pipes and dissolves as I watch them pull away.
I think of whatever it is that looks back in longing, how the hibiscus
still blooms in February and my God, it's been years since I've seen snow.