We’re standing together at the end of “our” century wondering alone what the hell just happened. It was an ethereal thing, like an accent, something like a ragtime roll born on a riverboat, that kept us lingering around one corner of the room for so long. That tool, which came from our tongues, really, no longer had a job to do. “Do you remember,” says I, “when you was pullin’ riverboats an’ I was pushin’ barges? We sure had us some different sticks.” But you don’t feel like talking much. But maybe you’ll belt out a line: “Ain’t no more cane on the Brazis, it all done been turned to molasses.” Typical, you saving your last word for the damn sugarcane. Not a note, not a melody for the gang nor the walking boss, no hammer gone shine gone ring on down canyon-way, nor “I don’t b’long to you, walkin’ boss”. No nothing. You learned long ago that the light was brightest in the deepest tunnel, and even now at the end of the job you ain’t got no respect for nothin’ ‘sides the work. We’re standing at the end of our century with the final spike driven in and we ain’t got shit to say. I mean, we ain’t got shit… Des’itute. Maybe somethin’ like: “It happened to the best of ’em… and now this other dark age has come”. For the unwritten record takes its place, writing nothing of it all, as it never did anyways. The light is brightest, deepest tunnel. Finally: “I’ve got mouths to feed,” you say, brow sweat hardly yet chilled, “I best be fillin’ ’em in with coal ash before they figure it all out… that it was all just one mad, lost, brisk and misguided expenditure of love. If we’d bridged a continent, it’d hardly mattered. In the century to come, they’ll find the remains of a steel driver’s family, victims of familicide, pistons to the backs of heads, and they’ll know that we truly lived in the time of the engine —but what an American engine it was.” I watch you in resignation disappear into that valley. Finger raised, I froze in time the indication, the verdict, and the ritual: There. There. There lies a steel-driving man. But, you know what? Ain’t nobody out here lookin’ for you.
“you come from the other side?”
I felt like a ghost – it wasn’t just my hue
Recaptured after a prison break
“you come from the other side?”
Lady, I am from the Great Beyond
Tucson and Yuma sands glow on my soles
“yes, sister, I come from the other side.
Wanna touch my hems? They’re also secondhand.
and here before you I am swatting ants
off my legs”
All your efforts and all your failures touch me
somewhere deep in my Anglo-Saxon soul –
What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?
– make me want to evict you and move into your house,
and for completely impersonal reasons, a stiff
upper lip and a cane, a paper and the hunt,
ever modern, ever multi-, democratic and free.
Always open for business, always cheering the meek
and waiting for my shot to fall, me or the quarry,
a Sunday roast bake and W.H. Auden. It’s really nothing
personal. All your efforts and all your failures
touch me somewhere. But we don’t touch that much.
And I would prefer it if you succeeded alone.
There were a number of archaeological objects in the sheets which would normally have bothered me. A press-on nail from the dry cleaners, a beetle that flew in through the kitchen window and burrowed into the neck of my shirt. Sometimes we were almost sleeping on the forest floor or in a midden. I normally would have tossed the mattress. But each time I plucked the offending artifact and flicked it into the darkness. I then rolled over into my mortal position and I put my arms back around you, preserving our remains to be brushed clean. And each time you were already before me in that sleep. In metallurgical dreams you slept, a sedentary sarcophagus from the nights long before we met here.
I guess you never knowed the feeling
Railroading on the Great Divide
There’s Boot Outlets and wooden Indians galore
But on one side there’s Nevada, on the other side Christ
There’s the Rockies, then perdition
And I never knowed where I’d jump
I’ve tried to keep my feet on the steel
No matter how massive the landscape
I remembered I’m small, but the temptation was there
To leap into the firs and pines
I can move fast on a train, but I can’t move the sky
I guess you never knowed the feeling
And railroading on the Great Divide
Some will make it, others will not
Just gotta keep moving
No matter how massive
Because I am small
I remember what the St John’s County sheriff and ex-Marine boot camp drill instructor called out to me as I crawled through the mud in the dark between patches of cicada-filled palmetto and pine stands: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Sir, yes sir! He stood me inside the dumpster on bags of school lunch waste while the others ran around it beating on its sides with sticks and yelling, “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” The clamor and the smell and the heat and the humidity all merged together and the mud on my flat chest sucked my metaphorical heart out and when they opened the dumpster again none of it even mattered. “Weakness is pain leaving the body, sir!”
“What!?! Do we have a philosopher here?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“Alright, Socrates,” he smiled. And nothing else ever came from it.
I still crawl in the mud at night whenever I can, but it’s just not the same without all the noise. But it comes close to my chest when the cicadas emerge again. I consider standing in a dumpster. But the drill instructor is long long gone. Florida nights.
Last night we stayed at the Cracker Barrel in Hot Springs on Pakis Road. Last night we stayed at the Cracker Barrel in Hot Springs on Pakis Road. Sassafras finger traps rocking chair checker mats Sprinkler humidity phosphorus moon between us and the TJ Maxx Last night we stayed at the Cracker Barrel in Hot Springs on Pakis Road And it was a country store at MLK and Central Ave La Hacienda and South of the Border Even the Outback and the international pancakes But we stayed at the country store. It was The Cracker Barrel. And we slept well. We passed some hours reading at the Books-A-Million sections maps, occult, calendars And happy Church of Nazarene just off the off ramp. We live off the fat of the land, this land. We live in the liminal space between the interstate and the residentials And it is the place optimized for everything else. Last night we stayed at the Cracker Barrel in Hot Springs on Pakis Road.
The next time I put on a Stetson
It might not be a $30 estate sale
bargain off the interstate
It might not be something endorsed
by some faux country celebrity and
sold to me by a farm boy on commission
who tells me to tell Dwayne that Grant
said hi when I stop to get my felt
steamed up in Abilene
And it might not rest on the dash
of a Freightliner parked in the only
Love’s this side of Grand Island
And it might not ride the head of a girl
on a boat in a canyon in Central America
And it might not have a cattleman shape
or a pinched front or a show crease,
And in fact it might be a real piece of shit.
I really don’t care.
But I’m gonna wear a Stetson again
and I’m gonna sleep in the desert again
and I’m gonna make folks back East
uncomfortable again with the dust
on my boots and the stride of my step
and as Whitman said, I’ll wear that sucker
anytime I want, outside or in.
All our vital signs seem to stall. It’s Palm Sunday. Yeah, you can drive that old pickup to church today, but can you keep it running through the work week? Even if it’s your last? The end is never the end. Hosanna.
In Appalachia on Decoration Day we decorated the graves of loved ones with our congregations. Victory over death. Victory in death. ‘Hosanna!’ we shout, unsure if we deserve it, as all our vital signs seem to stall at the cemetery gate.
‘Hosanna,’ the multitude murmurs as the Ford beater stalls at the gate of Jerusalem. At the gate of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem Ridge. Palm Sunday. We’ll never get in the damn gravel lot across from Bert’s Feed.
Today Jesus rode in on a pathetic donkey, sign of peace, as a conqueror, ready to die. This whole week is about victory over death, victory in death. But it is also about living and dying truthfully. It is about riding in on an ass, a sign of peace and humility, and ready to die at the hands of the vain, violent and lustful. Victory over death, victory in death, victory in peace.
Rev. Edwards and Reason Conner get out and give it a push. They push that miserable F-150 donkey and its John Deere colt in the flat bed across the stock gap and into the Holy Spirit. The victory is hushed. The work week lies ahead, and we gotta keep an eye on Lemiel’s old beater. Can he keep it running? “The end is never the end,” moans Louisa Edwards, the preacher’s wife, “we’ll be driving old Lemiel and his mower around in the church shuttle until Kingdom Come”.
“Hosanna,” says Rev. Edwards, “hosanna.”