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”
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.”
“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.