In the hexagon shadows of the old barn’s shed. The peony-topped steps go blow by blow, one and then another.
The lopped-off hurries. This breed of moonshine. Four shots from a bottle and nothing’s the same. Triple the score, and everybody’s tipped off, and the drips from the eaves puddle — and it seems harsh, somehow, or perhaps that’s just jaw-dropped scorn ringing through evensong’s pull.
The numbers on the curb, painted by Solomon, rinsed from rare reds now as the gutter water rushes to a trickle. A salty spray, or the murkier slips in and out of talking around more sensitive material. The fence posts gone bent-over like they’re praying. All the yanked weeds scattered and lying immodest on the cattle-grazed grass. The spaces created by fences. A maniac’s things, all those dalliances I’ve paid for now — just moonlight on a scabby shore. Discreetness follows. A haggled distance to get, stepping from stone to stone between moss and cigarette butts; and I know the sound of hooves on wet cement too. What’s there to spend of your life — it used to be kept, ignorant, at a loss for what came before — momentarily suspended in mid-thought, or some blatant gushing that just stays put longer and longer until the goopy droll of it all does you in before you’ve ever breached what it takes to get out.
The rollers, the smashers, the holy shock of the nincompoop wind (your words) with piss-scented loss in the dead leaves. I am poking around for holes to plug, the spots where your drill bore its rueful head. Pepper me with your lies in a spotlight turned to rain in some long-forgotten single-file hallway. The signal flares are duds. Don’t dress for the circumstances. It’ll all come along and get soused with you and your damn two-bit dreams.
I am watching the power lines for sway and slack. Telephone poles are the oddest things: the work of Jack-pine trunks, limbless, withstanding the elements, growing ancient and ossified in their afterlife. I do not relate to a thing here. Nothing but dead-end risers in the flats. Even old Jedidiah Morse couldn’t get a rise out of this here hunk of mutton. You see, the rhythmic transmission of my sorrow is all tapped out, and I am only yours falsely, as true as that could ever seem or as you’d not wish it to be. A sculptor’s grave and, “What hath God wrought,” to the old B&O. Henry sees it better, off or with, I guess. And in the steps? The gravel croaks and giggles with them. Each strange instinct for ambulation gets its wisteria way too, all twisting and contorting towards destiny aside. What am I talking about? There must be a few strays in the tub out back, by those more warped reasons for staying behind — and I don’t know if their parched barks go unheard in the pitch. Draw. I am just a place where no flowers grow. Step by step, I frown onward, and the valleys will be dry for another season, so unlike these eyes, or yours, or the faces we never got to see each other make in the hexagon shadows of the old barn’s shed.
Drinking coffee, reading the paper, selling things that nobody wants anymore. I’m moved by the sound of sirens. Ambulances of every nation have a unique sound, just like the mumbling of junk-shop owners and the bark of dogs. The array of deceit in my current residence amazes me: the stink of steamed cabbage curdled with thoughts of one wiping the ass with the cheap stuff again, wandering the deserted floors of an abandoned Woolworth. I don’t want it to come down to a pair of high heels dangling from a crooked chandelier. If looking down is necessary, well, here we go. The rusted torsos of a few tiny robots strewn among empty Raid cans and rust-speckled mousetraps; pumpkin seeds, cut hair, and granola; a legless Charlie Chaplin doll. It’s a risk just being yourself sometimes. And to think I started it all with nary a broom to my name. Outmoded and discarded items just bloom out here in the crawling dust. I mean, you take some stock of your life at some point; you look around and see nothing except emptiness and clutter. I do my moaning through a copper bullhorn with a sun-bleached sticker on it in the shape of Porky Pig. Lucky though, because lordy, that tuxedo-top-with-no-bottom look really gives me the heebies and/or jeebies, even just thinking about it. I don’t scream, “Curses!” anymore though.
Gizmos break down around here all the time, when they don’t show up that way at least. I crank them, shower them with oil and WD40, throw a few at the wall and see what does or doesn’t fall out, see what makes them rumble and row, tick and traipse, and who knows, maybe figure a way to bring some sort of a semblance of life back to them, or to me. There are stairs too, in the back, if it comes to it. I do what it takes. Squinty chops of motion, sometimes quick seizures of breakneck speed, or just hunches of twitch-and-jerk mobility. These damn toys ruin themselves, collapsing in defeat before they’ve given it a real go. I should take the useless ones and expel them to the funeral-pyre heap out back, and sometimes I do, but it’s hard to give up on them. I don’t want to be the one making the last call. Rusted bolts and tough stringy wires, heads with no top, stray arms and strange plastic parts with no semblance of anything even resembling…well, anything. So, I’m left with more and more useless things that won’t even go bump in the daytime.
So many stacks of calendars gathering dust. Calendars of frogs, harlequin romance covers, scenes from Basic Instinct, anatomy charts, losing presidential candidates, Kentucky Derby runners-up, to name a few. The years are all long gone. I stare at a hundred Januarys, the boxes all X’d off, and wonder about the winters of my life: all that time spent huddled in corners next to heaters, worrying about soup and sandwiches, cowering under heavy blankets, craven and dismal in the dark, unable to imagine even crossing the street or shaking the hand of another person. Everything’s luck in this world, and it seems mine turns richer towards the worst of it. I grow slump-shoulder heavy as I slink and lean towards the shadows.
It is going on later than usual. It is past the rayed returns of dim beams, the beak-pocked boards in the rafters strung with webs and the gonfalons of defunct sports teams. A second coat of dust gathers. My head’s festooned with scars slashed long ago, like a lost trunk tire cracking and crumbling into small sun-baked bits. Toy boats know my thoughts by heart. Officious mumbling gets me through it, though, and I keep my customers close enough to satisfied, for the most part. But hell, don’t get me finished — when it comes to the bottom of the coffee pot. I’ve got restriction’s livid temper to deal with still, and right about never I ditto a sucker’s pluck and hurl my sentiments from the upstairs bathroom window. That’s my way in, or out, if you’d prefer to think of it that way. I do and don’t. And then there’s me, here, fuming about some general disturbances in the twist of my not-so-personal, so-so space. You’ve got to do something to keep yourself company. That’s about it. Somewhat-done, back-page-newspaper crossword puzzles littering the carpet: jagged ink letters and crossed-out words and empty boxes waiting, eternally, to be filled. Crumpled sacks filled with the torn yellow pages of formerly waterlogged magazines, their covers even still a bit glossy — out of place in a place where nothing shines much. I’d pack my bags but they’d just fall apart before I even buckled them shut.
In the morning, before the coffee’s ready, before my head catches up with the rest of me, Arnold comes in and starts pushing stuff around, toying and schmoozing with little tchotchkes he finds amusing. My eyes are too heavy to focus properly, and the best I can do is growl a meek, “Hey there, Arn.” It’s enough to keep him at bay. He knows not to approach me too hastily first thing after daylight. I’m a man of slow, cumbersome motions in the a.m.. Just leaning on the counter’s enough to kept me busy.
The windows start to fill with light, a little, and I squint out towards a break in the clouds: a frowzy, soap-scum yellow scuttling on the horizon’s yawning mug that seems to be mocking me and my sluggish puddles of ambition. A sudden blunted dourness overcomes me, and I feel as if I won’t ever escape these walls of overloaded shelves. Arnold’s flicking the silver flags of two identical miniature rocket ships with a finger of each hand, making them spin around and around while he whistles When Johnny Comes Marching Home. I try not to pay attention. Instead I listen to the coffeemaker sputter, wheeze, and eventually drip to life. My gaze is gauzy with sleep. There’s no telling how far I’ve strayed from the calm of rest. Very little comes easy to the flutter-singed mind of insomnia’s early-morning dementia. I find myself giving up and in a little more with the arrival of each new day. As one might expect, intruders, like Arnold, who scramble into my pre-coffee daze with their shambling theatrics, are not a welcome sight. I close my eyes and try to dream my way out of all this and all the way back home. It doesn’t work.
Drizzling on about the commonplace, I make up for gained time. A real stickler for the uncanny relief of settling in. I’m cursed with petty annoyances wherever I go. It’s layman’s terms my memory’s coming to, in the tact of being considerate to what fortune holds aloft, gone or lost just the same, from what reality’s not very good at understanding. I don’t get to see myself from the curt perspectives that others take. Not that I’m one to get all sentimental over thrown-away things, but still, I’m not the sort who takes these things with a bashful shrug and moves on. My taste may change, but my will is still solid. Fuck salsa. I’m making a break for plain tortilla chips soaked in butter.
There’s a guy I’ve nicknamed Pockets. He’s shifty with a wild stop-sign red crop of hair, and comes in here twice a week or so, but never too early to be a real hassle to me. But he’s here this morning, and starts paling around with Arnold. I hear Pockets mumble something about disregard for understatement. He’s off-the-charts rifle-happy while the radio plays Roy Orbison. Arnold shudders. I don’t blame him. Pockets can be quite a handful when he gets this way. Ostensibly I make to be ignoring them, but my eyes are watchful enough. Who knows when one of these homegrown bastards will turn to a filch. It’s better to play dumb.
Some folks come in searching for the Holy Grail. It’s like they’re saying, “Hello, Lady Darkness. Always welcome in my home.” They’d be better off dreaming up toilet paper slogans, if you ask me. They ride the swale between the tules of sleep and wakefulness, and they forget their hats on a bed. Buckboard moans and shakes under their stride. I am not giving in. I tell them to keep up with the bad fight, for the good of it, or whatever good it’s going to do any-old-one in this sheltered maroon-lost place we keep telling ourselves that we’re alive in. It’s Bunk. I know it. And I’m shoving off. It’s all I can do that’ll do. Better than mooching around with all of this forgetfulness. But I do. The nuns have all gone on attack. And I do.
A crowd is scrounging around through the junk shelves by noon. Sheila and Nellie, the Harmon twins — who both do more than scratch at the surface of ugly — are ranting and slandering around as usual. They’re both pushing fifty, and don’t like it. The rolls have gathered at their middles; their thighs shred tights like junk mail; faces like car wrecks; yellow hair shot to stringy split dry weeds; and there are more than a few boll weevils in their less-than-verdurous fields. I enjoy their conversations immensely.
Sheila pipes up, “My son, he’s a miscreant. And, to top that, a weeper too. A real master of the old waterworks spiller. Yep. Can’t get him to handle much without a bawling jag coming over him, and then, well, forget it. It’s all done in. No way to get to him, through and in. It’s over. All the theatrics, sprinklers, and then some. I just let him go on. It’s all you can do. That kid. He’s a lost cause.
“But you got to love your kid, right? Your own fleshy bloody thingy, and all that. It’s up to you to find a way to accept the shit licker into the folds of your life. But please, don’t think that it’s easy, especially if your own’s making up for lost time by smearing his milquetoast crap all over the sappiest parts of your personhood. Loopy as they come, I tell you. Wish for a muzzle. Maybe you get lucky. Well, at least it’s something to do in the drained thick of it.”
Nellie isn’t talking, and there are scrunches her face gets into that it seems it’ll never recover from. She’s a real squinter. Hard to tell if she’s happy about anything or even ever content. A purple scowl boils on the thick painted grease of her crusty mug, and, hell, maybe it’s about time we all get better at deciphering our own moaning. Maybe I’m just the same, whining on about nothing much, nothing much at all. We’re all just as boring as being bored. When I get around to choking somebody, it’ll be with both hands.
The crickets and the howls of coyotes scrawl tattered wrecks on the evening. I’m not lonely at all. My voice is deeper tonight, deeper than wild violets, and it threshes fallen leaves, and it cracks and falls, while I too am shallower in its depths. We all need a nice calm place to dream from. There, of course, is nothing to be done. There never is.
You ask yourself, “Where am I going to eat? Am I going to put socks on? What does a ringing phone sounds like?” But in the end it’s all just decorative, arrangements you’re making within the outside. I don’t regret the sinking I’ve done in (or out) the slouched course of my wandering. For the charge, the brunt of it at least, I go screaming Yiddish down the halls, again (or over and over), and then it’s a placated smile planted sullenly on my curt way of handling business. Sense doesn’t make me hard and gruff; it flows cussed and ribald, crooked to bend the stream better where something’s resisting more than a tad. But, hell, there I stop and go all self-absorbed and hollow. It’s better to just paint yourself behind the burning bush, I’ve found, and let others make distinctions for you. I’m done with chasing and being chased. Somebody cue the mood music, please. There’s no time like the present for hiding out and waiting for the future to arrive.
Stacks of CDs, most with cracked jewel cases and scratches cobwebbing out on their no-longer-shiny bottoms. I flip through them, wondering about why somebody’d bought them in the first place. Horrible titles and pictures: Little Handy And The DewBirds; Blithe Retreat; The TableTops “Platter Up”; Joe Nixon and The Blind Hunters; Jedi Weapon. It’s sad. All this wasted energy come to such a meager end, gathering dust now, never to be played or handled by expectant fingers again. Barney Koulfax and The Barroom Baritones. Gordie Takes Manhattan. It’s a fool’s hell disguised as Eden, and I don’t want to give in to it. I want this music to exist again, to rise to the rafters and fill this small room with everything it’s got. Somewhere in the dizzy realms of schmaltzy wonder lies a place for all this god-awful noise we make, this attempt to show the world that we are alive, real, and more than just another body taking up space and wasting air. I nab a CD from the pile at random: Louie Chalk’s “Singing Flowers Back To Bloom.” It’s still got the plastic on it. Never been opened. This makes me indescribably sad. I check it into the store’s CD player and hit PLAY.
A slight maundering mixed with the pulse and throb of a rumbling bass, and then some scraps of guitar, flickering and distorted — almost a squeal. A voice chimes in, discreet and saccharine, with a falsetto croon: “If I were a little petal, afloat upon the wind of your breath, then I’d give my heart a merry chance to wink and kiss and undress.” It’s horrendous. Worse than that. My whole body flinches. It’s like the world has suddenly gone off key, my brain’s out of tune, and the windows are rattling with the dire urge to escape. Everybody in the place has the look of surprised terror suddenly flash on their mugs, and I lunge at the CD player to hit STOP. Silence ensues. Relief fills the room like cotton candy, and we all sigh through it.
I used to know a guy named Presley. He’d wave at mirrors. Crowds never gathered, but he addressed them anyway. His hair was always slicked with pomade and smelled like vanilla. The way he walked was inimitable, like a cowboy drenched in kerosene avoiding flames while doing the mambo. Red shirts and bandannas around the neck. He used to play his 33 LPs at 45. Little Sister at this rpm was amazing. We danced to it, pounding the floorboards with our sweet mediocrity. I enjoyed his company quite a bit.
Courtesy goes a tad longer of a way around these parts. I give it a go — just easy-does-it, for the most of a while. I’ll get my share of jerks and bad-mouthers in here. It goes with the territory, and I put up with it, as far as my temper will allow. I let them have their blurts of frustration, and maybe take a bit more than I should, but it keeps up appearances around these pieces, and that does me better in the long of it. I keep to monosyllables. Also, curtness goes a yard to keeping things easy. I dust myself of others, and the static cling of them keeps me honest and irritated. I read the labels on food packages. The ingredients are the best poetry we’ve got: polysaccharides, torula yeast, thiamin mononitrate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, yellow 6-lake dye, extractives of annatto, xanthan gum, sodium hexametaphosphate. It is the pure poetry of the unpure products of America.
It’s like missing something you’ve never known. Sniveling over a ubiquitous riot that’s been quelled in your heart’s fondest corner-cleaning ways. A rutty pinch of light knifed blazing through troubled waters, momentarily, and then all’s calm and slow again. I can’t fuss over my own finger-pointing. Guessing glazes over and stultifies my finer points. I, somehow, get by without much gruff. Vulpine and a little less free with each passing night. It’s plenty.
A girl with a mad bushel of Coca-Cola hair is leaning against a lamppost, thumbing through a paper, dangling a cigarette from her lips as she goes. Her eye’s not there to be caught. It’s a slight wish of a thing, taking truck with fallen trees and gopher holes, and it plays itself straight ahead, burly and overreaching too, but I’m too sly for it. Maybe it is Beverly Sills, caught between an aria and a hangnail. I doubt it. I do my looking somewhere else. My eyes stretch skyward, as is their wont, and I catch nothing but a few wind-tugged bodies of flimsy clouds and long vast stretches of bowl-you-over blue taking more space than even emptiness could. The window’s smeared in places, chalky in others, and I gaze over the flinty ruins of old dirt paths no longer cut so distinct leading away from the road. I drag my eyes all over the place and get nowhere. This is always the decisive part of the day for me. There is a place that’ll turn one way or a hundred finite others. It plays havoc with my motivation, rues my milled volition, and steps brawny and curt on my dreams. There is nothing to do or be done. I have discovered only false tenses in today’s strips of hope. In the meantime, I cut my whisky with maple syrup.
There’s an encoignure on the sidewalk. The sun’s really doing a number on the wood, baking it to a scarred velvety texture, a scaling rust-colored patch of scabby shreds. It’s gutted: the drawers gone, and some dead leaves have settled their way in the bottom. It no longer matters how much money it might’ve fetched. Its resilience is for not. Love’s last trickle has dried up. The world erodes it and takes it back, slowly, into the cauldron of undifferentiated mass: a place where destruction is creation, and the rules no longer apply.
Jed counts the steps as he goes up the stairs, lumbering one by one, dazed and rocking some, hesitant too, and willfully sated with the journey. Like dead leaves swept up by a heavy gust of wind — a crinkled sound that scrapes and rustles and lifts — I hear him stepping his way towards where I am, tucked away in the attic room here, trying not to be bothered. It’s no use. His gangling gait is soon shuffling too close to keep going without me opening the door to let him in. There’s something princely about my undertakings, and I succumb and go to the door to unlatch it. There he is, face pawed at and pocked under a swash of black yarn-like whorls, chipped front teeth jutting out crookedly, and his aimless eyes slumped under droopy upper lids. Of course, he is invited in, and soon we’re kicking up our feet on various footrest substitutes and — while gandering around in feigned ambivalence, grinning at the unbearable — waiting our turn to speak.
The clouds sneak on up over the hills. The chumps don’t even put up a fight. Touched restless. The sweet, bubbly thrill of her voice gone for good. And for me, now, it gets loneliest in the afternoon. The day shrinks away, dappled and dreary, from my wherewithal. The stuffy things that arrive, the crank and wheeled brunt of them knocking around in my skull, have the most staying power while the sun’s getting on past straight overhead. Can’t blink these exudations away as they roost to brood. I cut my coffee with snake oil. Time just goes and goes and goes.
A deeper voice, more rich, almost a baritone, drooling and raspy just a lick above the plunk of a warped piano. A wise way to limn the necessary from monotony; nothing like the rash spate of today’s culled deliverance. It wakes one from its noon slumber while the strangest thoughts chip and dart through my warped brain, like being attacked by a butterfly. A weighty stroke of another hour upon us, lazily strangling me, and the music’s boring holes in the bleakness with a softly lulled timbre. The teakettle is whistling. Yes. I still find time to pour some tea in.
The months bury themselves in under-priced jewels. The light remains intact, skidding on the dirt-streaked window glass. The trees shave your uncle. The jasmine distills. We are just reflection of our own reflections. I keep thinking she’ll dive her way on out here, here where all I do is miss her. Forenoons tarry with bounded reasonableness, lasting painfully enough. Once, the cartoons were all in a foreign language, and I just found myself staring at defunct neon signs, doing trivial things with my time, and pouring grape soda over salted ice. There is a rich valor in the roses here, a steep unhurried hinge of newness that swings easy in the straddle of the evenings — the floating absurd hours that flutter by, not really like petals falling at all. Not really. Carved apses of reality lapse and lurk like timid frowns. The sling of curves, the crop-hungry wilt of barren love, the optimal dose of languid spaces spread through drowsy-thick harbors, a creep that’ll clutch at whatever winds up around. I think of her more often than a lot. Yellow digs. The mustard fights. Potatoes peel themselves. All’s faring so much less than well. The days here are just shattered glass from a one-way mirror without her.
Step by godforsaken step, Jed and I have gone. And the extent of this here sad sack’s territorial grumblings? Well, let’s just say that Jed’s made sure that I am no longer in service to whatever powers that just so happen to be. You can find me saying, “Amen,” to it all, drunk in my boots, asleep until all that awaiting destiny gets around to finding me. Amen. Yes. God damn it. Amen.