I’ve seen people like me…
Give me a chance!
I’ve seen people like me there…
If I had ever had a goddamn chance!
I remember the little boy in London
asking me if America was better
He rolled his eyes
“I know it is,” he said, disgusted with me.
Hell, I bet his parents got stuck in Peckham on their way there
from Pakistan or Ghana
And grandpa still rambles on interchangeably about Old Labour and Bruce Springsteen
It’s a story repeated in a million council flats
If I’d ever had a goddamn chance in this world
If I’d ever gotten a GODDAMN chance in this world
And there’s still a place that comes to mind
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.”
“Do you know how many women would kill for your locks?” I thought for sure that the stylist was going to reject the appointment to preserve my dead cell protein accretions. I had to lean in and whisper, “Do you mean they want to scalp me and wear my follicles around like Ed Gein’s bonnet?” I was partially hopeful. “No, no,” she said, “maybe they would want to touch it, maybe they would hate you and all you stand for but feel inexplicably drawn to you via hair-envy. But I don’t believe there will be any Wisconsin nipple-belts involved.” I folded my arms and squeezed my chest until that, too, felt like cracking a lobster. “I meet my Jungian female anima regularly in my dreams and we get along just fine,” I reflected, “and I suppose that if she were around when I’m awake then I wouldn’t feel sentimental toward any woman at all, ever again. I don’t feel sentimental towards her, actually, I just feel complete. There can’t be any higher freedom than that! Ultimate reconciliation! Aristophanean soulmates, like conjoined twins, like mutually dead cell protein accretions in the form of the opposite gender!” I saw a stem cell floating in the barber’s blue disinfectant jar, and I saw faded clipper hairstyles of baby-faced owners of extensive automobile sound systems, and I saw facial hairs of soft-palmed lumberjacks who ride the timbers of finance down the mighty Colombia River singing their mighty, soft-palmed lumberjack songs: “Yo-ho-ho, the redwoods our fathers, let’s put on their jackets, it’s the lumbering life for me!” Floating out to the Pacific, they crack lobster chests with the dull ends of axes. “Say,” I continued, “maybe someone feminine with an English-looking face could slap on my bloody headdress and talk to me about poetry and America and the wild edibles of the Carolina Piedmont and I’d call the approximation adequate. You have the blades, sister. This could be a new source of revenue for you: Jungian makeovers and Wisconsin nipple-belts. And you can serve Pacific, mustachioed lobster, too. You can crack their claws with the backs of scissors, hot butter lubricating beards…” But before I knew it, the deed was done. And like a secular circumcision in the bowels of a Baptist hospital, there fell my accretions to the floor. Swept up and away to decompose before me, there went my locks, pursued to the landfill by a herd of ethnically ambivalent women eager to braid what my mother incidentally gave my daughters. “Do you know how many women would kill?” — back to the lumber camps, for me, man. Man. Man.
It was a pregnant moment. A Chinatown bus at the foot of Manhattan Bridge, back when our hair was less granite and more brownstone. Here, I’ll buy you bubble tea and we can watch the fog over the YMCA. You can see buses listed on the sign all the way to Richmond, and if you ask them there’s even one going to a shopping mall in Florida. But I ain’t goin’ down there. “The city is like one great big womb, protective and prefigurative,” said John, who had slept overnight at Grand Central. “No,” I said, who had stayed at an illegal basement hotel with walls made from spare computer parts, “the city is like a placenta, fecund and facilitative.” The Lucky Star bus man, fresh from his one-room apartment with shared bath, stopped us. “No,” he said, “the city is born. The city is a brother. The city is family. Now get on the fuckin’ bus if yer goin’ to Boston.” Spray some Wild Style into my hair now, man. Something tells me we’re heading into America, and we won’t be back until we’re much older.
Now that the culture wars are over… sweet sweet reconciliation, Lord. We heard the Velvet Underground on some New York station and thought it saved our lives. We were just trying to be wiser in our PR shoes and our big straw hats. We’re sorry we glorified bondage and Ginsberg and haunted railroad crossings on both wrong sides. Nothing was happening at all. We had no X-Ray Specs to know our influence on the youth, and now that the culture wars are over, won’t you let us come back home? I’ll throw the used-up Christmas trees back on the pile, and our Halloween decorations will be like the scary old Times Square, sweet sweet Jane… and we’ll never be in another Rock-n-roll band ever again, now that the culture wars are over. All you protest kids, let me know, let me know now, how it does feel to be loved.
Spare the rod, perish the thought. Ideas don’t dig post holes. She blames it on some centuries that pulled out a chair and sat cross-legged in a dark oak wood grain corner for a fever spell. They wore a three-piece suit and fiddled with a pecan in the left hand until it’d been greased with palm sweat and polished into an acorn. If she hadn’t had the town to call her a “thinker”, she would have hallucinated that her thoughts had value. Of course they didn’t. Ideas don’t dig post holes any more than centuries fiddle with pecans in the corner. Perish the thought, spoil the child.
That’s where such things belong, in darkness, in wood grain patterns on oak floors. Nothing is more ingrown than the mind in commune with the mind in the insufferable delusion of movement and substance. Nothing more tyrannical than a mind that won’t shut the hell up and contemplate the wood grain patterns on oak floors to the point of fever, polish a pecan in a sweaty palm into an acorn, and tell the family what’s the cost of a dozen eggs got to round here.
Ideas don’t dig post holes. She needs to recognize that or get out of town before the light hits that corner and the centuries uncross their legs, check their time piece, and set about their ancient daylight malevolence. Perish the thought.
…and what if you never do miss anyone as much as North Carolina?
Do you have to go back to find out?
Are your ancestors still national forests?
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway gonna lead up into the sky this time?
Are you gonna slip on lichens off Jumpinoff Rock, or choke on the pawpaw seed of the Great Dismal Swamp?
Wipe off the mists of the Cherokee orchard, and pan for the bones of the last elk of Avery County?
You and your shotgun wandered off from Boone and never came back.
They seen your passing around Kingsport, too:
There goes the man with a North Carolina death wish, trailing behind him the vapors of hollers and the breadcrumbs to lead back to the dream mill.
You remember when work was easier ‘an livin’? You spent all them days moanin’ on ’bout how you gotta work to live, you live to work. Yeah, man. Say it again, brother. Yeah, man. How you been? Still kickin’. Ain’t dead yet. Can’t complain. Or I could but I won’t. Haha. Yeah girl. Please sister. Yeah girl. Never see the missus. They grow up so dern fast. They got me hook, line an’ sinker, while my hook, line an’ sinker ain’t touched the water all year. But you remember them OTHER days?… them days when work was easier ‘an livin’? I reckon if the job is good enough then that’d be the best feelin’ there is. Anyhow. Ain’t you got a job to do? You got time to lean, you got time to clean. Who you workin’ for anyway? Don’t need no food, I got that blessed bread and fish buffet. I got the manna meal ticket, yes I do. I get my clothes from the lilies in the field. But just gimme a job. Come on, now. Put me to work.
The comforting feeling
I woke up in the hammock with the mosquito net over me
The smell of rendering fat and burning pork rinds from in front of the corner mechanic shop below
It was blowing in the corner window and blowing out the courtyard window
And for a moment I thought I’d woken up in the cab of my truck once more
Somewhere around Lubbock, Texas, where the
air was full with cow.
Copper blood, bone sand. The trains passing the yard even seemed to have traded their steam horns for moos.
Texas. What great act of genius invented a Texas.
A place to walk tall and render the fat.
Texas! The word like a monolith standing in the center somewhere.
Flat skies, oil fields, live by Texas and die by Texas.
Ay, Santa Ana! Horrible Texas, an open question.
The hammock swayed.
The sweet potato man blew his whistle,
the knife sharpener blew his flute, the garbage man rang his bell, and the
children spoke Nahuatl as they cooked
their hen’s egg over a burning tire.
It was morning in Old Mexico,
but Texas burned in my eyes.