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.
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.”
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.
Sinners, pulling legs off spiders
and wings off moths, in
the moss-bedded cradle.
In the forest all is possible if
the forest wants it that way.
Try, try to understand what the
forest wants might not always
be what we wish. Try not to
change the forest, but live
the dark jubilation before
forgiveness peaks between
the leaves at dawn.